It seems there’s no limit to lame Western criticism of how Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte constructs his foreign policy; no limit to the advice for which path he should be following. Duterte and his administration rightly ignore all that. But investors need to also.
Writing in Forbes magazine, Anders Corr – founder of Corr Analytics; according to its blurb, a research provider “with a focus on strategic and international political risk” – asserts: ‘Duterte Of The Philippines Plays With Russian Fire’. It’s a short article, but it’s packed with cautions and forewarnings. The gist is that if Duterte forges close bilateral relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he’s making a pact with the Devil.
The problem is, the Philippines is complex; it can’t be assessed accurately by “statistics, surveys, modeling, simulation, prediction, and causal inference” in which Corr claims his company “has methodological experience”. All that goes out of the window when you get down on the ground in this place.
Complicated politics aside, what’s at play here is culture – good and bad, traditional and new, fixed and switching. It moves and turns from light to dark, shallow to deep, actual to illusion with the unpredictability of quicksilver. It’s what gives the place its richness. This isn’t down-home USA – though there’s even some of that there. The point is it can’t be read from a boiler plate produced in Washington DC. And US prejudices can’t be projected onto it to mirror the American view – though that’s what happens every time.
That comes from an American mindset which says all things Russian and all things Chinese are bad and should be avoided like the plague. It’s the US party line that’s taught from kindergarten to university and is pumped out at every available opportunity by Hollywood and a one-track-minded, state-approved media. From kids’ comics to professed intellectual debate, the message is on a perpetual loop. In America there’s no getting away from it.
As far as Russia’s badness is concerned, that’s been in the American psyche for 100 years – going back to 1917 when the Bolsheviks (photo) established the world’s first socialist republic and drove out capitalism from Mother Russia. The beliefs were propaganda-supercharged during the Cold War; subdued slightly following perestroika and glasnost which led to the unraveling of the Soviet Union, and were then given a reviving shot in the arm courtesy of former US president, Barack Obama, as his flimsy reset button for improving US-Russia relations blew up in his face.
In China’s case it date back to 1950 and the Korean War in which the US supported southern forces while China supported those of the north as America sought to impose its own gospel of democracy on the Korean peninsular. More particularly it recalls the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River in which China’s 13th Army routed the 8th Army of the United States delivering a bitter blow to American pride.
And for all the intervening years, Washington has viewed Moscow and Beijing with suspicion. It matters little that Russia is no longer a communist state, or that China has embraced capitalism – albeit in its own way. As far as the American eagle is concerned, the Russian bear and the Chinese dragon are creatures that can never be trusted. After all, they don’t think like Californians or Ohioans, how could they be trusted. And they refuse to accept that the US brand of democracy is the only acceptable one. Countries as obstinate as that can never be buddies with the US.
Consequently in the American view, these large world powers, Russia and China, must be contained – isolated would be even better. And so when a country shows signs of warming bilateral relations with them – at whatever level – all efforts must be taken to dissuade them. They must be prevented from committing a grave political sin
According to that rationale, the Philippines, under Duterte has sinned twice – three times in a sense: it’s embraced China, signaled to Russia that it’s wants to expand foreign and trade ties, and it’s virtually told America – the senior partner in the 70-year-old US-Philippine “special relationship” – where to stick its aid; aid which it believes comes at too high a price; effectively giving the US a lien on the Philippines’ independence.
The fact that Washington virtually drove Manila into the arms of Beijing and Moscow by its heavy-handed involvement in the Philippines internal affairs – ex-US president Barack Obama’s public criticism of Duterte’s War on Drugs – seems not to have registered with most analysts, like Corr, in their assessments of why the sphere of influence in East Asia is dramatically changing.
They put it down simplistically to America’s arch foes moving in on what they believe is historically American territory – even though overtures for a closer Sino-Philippine partnership came from Duterte and those to expand Russo-Philippine ties are mutual.
But given the conditioning of Americans from the cradle to the grave – that American democracy is the only hope for the world – Corr and his compatriots would have difficulty thinking any other way. Furthermore, he would have problems selling his analysis unless it faithfully replicated the US establishment view – a very clear though facile view that shows America as a force of light and China and Russia as dark entities. Captain America vs The Beasts of the East.
This article could end here but we felt we should address some of Corr’s comments, so we apologise for the length of this report. Below, then, are extracts from Corr’s article, accompanied by our response to them.
Paragraph 1: “Giving access to Russian companies and military forces is opening doors for Russia to influence top Philippine government officials and their friends in a way that could lead to corruption, the future misalignment of Philippine defensive alliances, a foreign debt trap, and the erosion of Philippine freedoms. The light weapons that Russia is seeking to sell the Philippines, possibly on credit, will be useless in defending Philippine maritime territory against an adversary like China, but could be used to suppress the Philippine people”.
That paragraph is not just outrageous in its propaganda, raising the spectres of a foreign debt trap, the erosion of Philippine freedoms and the suppression of Filipinos, it’s also wildly inaccurate. “Lead to corruption?” Does Corr have any understanding of the Philippines’ fabulously rich history of corruption? “An adversary like China?” China was an adversary of the Philippines during the previous presidency of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino; under Duterte it’s now a strategic partner.
And this phrase, “the future misalignment of Philippine defensive alliances” – misaligned according to whom; the Washington establishment, the Pentagon, the United Nations Security Council (ex-Russia and China of course), the University of California Berkeley’s Board of Regents?
Paragraph 2: “Russia is likely to support President Duterte and his anti-democratic tendencies, including what some have called his extrajudicial war on drugs … That is dangerous for the Philippine people, who should immediately increase support for incorruptible politicians and activists who have a strong track record in supporting human rights, democracy and international law”.
Duterte’s “anti-democratic tendencies”? He’s the most-popular democratically elected president in the history of the Philippine Republic. So what does that mean, that the country’s electorate democratically voted for and continues to democratically support in overwhelming numbers a man who’s anti-democratic? How does that work? And what is Corr implying about the political acumen of the Filipino electorate? Frankly, it’s offensive.
The war on illegal drugs, moreover, is something Duterte promised that same electorate when he ran for office. His handling of it has earned him approval ratings that put those of most Western leaders to shame. And of course the drugs war is not “extrajudicial”. Meanwhile, that last remark – that the Philippine people should “immediately increase support for incorruptible politicians and activists who have a strong track record in supporting human rights, democracy and international law” – who could he possibly have in mind?
Surely not the party which the electorate rejected at the last election – the pro-US Liberal Party of Vice President Leni Robredo? We’ll know how incorruptible she is when the Supreme Court eventually gets around to hearing a case brought against her for what could amount to electoral fraud, and the outcome of another case in which the former Liberal administration’s justice minister, Leila De Lima, will be tried for profiteering from the sale of illegal drugs.
Paragraph 3: “If the Philippines starts slipping into an autocratic sphere of influence, erosions of current political freedoms and rights could make it hard for the people to save their country from dangerous autocratic defense alliances such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO]”.
An “autocratic sphere of influence” – what did Obama have in mind with the “Pivot to East Asia,” his flagship future foreign policy that sought to increase the US military presence in this region? Wasn’t that to achieve exactly that with the help of its main regional ally, Japan? He’d also ensured that the Philippines would slip into that very sphere by arranging accommodation for US forces on Philippine soil: What lay beneath. East Asia Inc. – let’s call it that – was never going to be an equal partnership; it would have been a regional branch office of USA Inc., from which it would have taken directions.
Leaving aside his oxymoron, “autocratic defense alliances,” why the reference to the SCO? And what if the Philippines did apply to join it? It’s a free country it can make its own decisions. The West might not like it; after all it’s an equalizer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (or Nato) which it believes has the sole right for being a multinational defence pact.
Paragraph 4: “(Duterte) should preference relations with only those countries that truly support Philippine independence. No matter what some may say, the U.S. strongly supports an independent Philippine foreign policy. But the Philippines can also ally closely with countries like Japan, Germany, the U.K., and India, all of which share Philippine values like democracy and human rights”.
Many in the Philippines, going back many generations, would strongly contest the assertion that the US “strongly supports an independent Philippine foreign policy”. There’s far too much evidence to the contrary. It would fill a large book, But criticism of Duterte doing just that, from every part of the US establishment – from the State Department to members of Congress; not to mention the endless barrage of negative coverage from the US mainstream media – destroys that illusion completely.
What he actually meant was that the US strongly supports an independent Philippine foreign policy which the US approves of – such as with the countries he mentioned.
The Philippines, however, is already extremely closely allied with Japan – in fact even more so since Duterte came to power. It also has close relations with the UK and no doubt, given the number of state visits Duterte’s made so far, he’ll get round to India.
But it’s odd that Corr would mention India which has valued Russia as one of its closest allies for the past six-plus decades. They have strong relations strategically, militarily, diplomatically and, economically – Russia and India are fellow members of the BRICS, an acronym for the economic block which also includes Brazil, China and South Africa. Actually, it’s hard to see how they could be any closer.