Now that some of the dust has settled as the historic Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) year – its 50th – draws to a close with its finale summit in Clark, Pampanga and its gala celebrations in Manila, the world is starting to see a new order emerging. And Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has played no small part in that. In fact, in some ways, you could say he’s a key architect.
This will send shudders through the Left Liberal establishments from Washington to Ottawa to Brussels to Sydney and to Manila where a rump of the Liberal Party has been undermining Duterte since he took over the presidency from them 17 months ago.
The Left’s worst fears have finally manifested in the warm and cordial relations shown there and at the conference of the Asia-Pacific Cooperation in Da Nang, Vietnam, three days earlier between leaders who all stand across the political aisle from them.
In both places what emerged was that the nations of China, the US, Japan and Russia – the four most-powerful countries on Earth – have common ground; and, more importantly, common interests that include a resounding repudiation of Liberalism. And their respective leaders, President Xi Jinping, President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin – all of whom the Left regards as enemies – stayed close to business and away from inflammatory rhetoric.
There are no defenders of political correctness among these leaders; no apologists for the Left. In fact the reverse; to a man – like their Asean host, Duterte – they’re determined to create a new political ethos; one that denounces and excludes the Liberal elites and their efforts to drive through a One-World Order of their design by engineering discord and raising tensions.
Indeed, the last thing the Left wanted was for these men to get on and build friendships. But that’s exactly what happened. And they did so easily.
In the light of all that, it’s bitterly ironic for the Left that the theme of this year’s Asean – set by the Philippines – was “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”. For, the partnerships that have been forged, or consolidated over the past week, are based on change that’ll engage the world in a very different way to the one their critics would like. In short, the lemming rush for a one-size-fits-all political globalisation is to be replaced by the right to nationhood.
The new management seeks the re-establishment of national sovereignty – not just for their lands, but for all. The leaders of the Big 4, along with Duterte, are all nationalists; they believe in putting their own national interests first and respecting the right of others to do the same. The involvement in the internal affairs of other states – in contrast to the determined interference of the Liberal elites, such as the US Democratic Party, the Liberal Party of Canada and the European Union – is something they all fundamentally reject.
Here’s a couple of examples, one each from the Asean and Apec gatherings. It’s why US President Donald Trump didn’t raise the issue with Duterte of alleged extrajudicial killings in his War on Drugs, one of two issues – the other being China’s encroachments in the South China Sea – for which the international media had converged on Manila to highlight in the hope of embarrassing both presidents.
Naturally, this brought instant condemnation from the Liberal human-rights community. Phelim Kine, assistant Asia director of Human Rights Watch said this: “What is unquestionable here is that the US president has passed on a golden opportunity to publicly show solidarity with the Philippine people by expressing concern about those thousands of deaths and to reproach Duterte’s utter trashing of the concept of rule of law”.
And on that other issue it’s also why the Asean states have confirmed that solutions to territorial disputes with China concerning island groups in the South China Sea should be settled through non-confrontational bilateral dialogues – effectively removing any pivotal US role. And though Trump offered his expertise as a mediator when he met Vietnamese President, Tran Dai Quang, in Da Nang, it’s already clear that Washington will be far less engaged – far less demonstrative – on this issue than it was when Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was in charge.
Under Obama and his Philippine counterpart, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, confrontation with China had been the preferred mode of arriving at a solution. In this new era, Asean leaders – and particularly Duterte – seek peaceful cooperation. The upshot of that is that China, after 15 years of to-ing and fro-ing, agreed on Monday to start negotiations with its Asean partners on the South China Sea Code of Conduct – a diplomatic structure for resolving these disputes. This is being seen by both China and Asean as a major breakthrough.
Not so much by Western Liberals, however. These disputes – particularly the most high-profile one between Manila and Beijing that saw an Obama-backed Aquino take China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague – have allowed them to treat the Mainland as an international pariah and attempt to drive divisions within the East Asia region.
That confrontation, which lasted for more than three years, resulted in a complete breakdown of Sino-Philippine relations and a heavy trade loss for the archipelago. Evidently, Western Liberals believed that by fracturing ties within this region – masquerading as having the true interests of disputants at heart – they could weaken China and promote their political agenda more easily.
But that’s not the Asian way and certainly not the Asean way where pragmatism and respect of neighbour are highly valued. Here’s what an Asean diplomat told the Philippine business daily, BusinessWorld, at the weekend: “Asean members are happy now that the Philippines is being non-confrontational” adding that the grouping had been “uncomfortable” with Aquino’s handling of the issue.
Of course, that doesn’t come as any shock. Aquino’s foreign-policy disaster – though lauded as a principled stand by an Obama-led West and its dutiful media – never got any traction in the lands of Asean. It was always seen by them – a number of which, not least Vietnam, also have pressing ocean-territory concerns with China – as destructive.
Contrast the Aquino stand-off with an agreement just reached between Manila and Beijing to strengthen cooperation between their respective coast guards and, along with other Asean capitals, to heighten hotline communications between their foreign ministries and China’s to handle “unplanned encounters” at sea.
Elsewhere, Putin, Xi, Trump and Duterte (photos, left to right) also share a healthy skepticism of the Western media – not because they’re against press freedom as media apologists like to say, but because they recognise that the Fourth Estate has become little more than a Fifth Column; using their press credentials to push the Liberal agenda and to cynically promote the One World Order. The media depict these men – especially Trump and Duterte – as enemies of the press, while in reality the reverse is the case.
But their refusal to tow the press line is of great concern to a media that likes to support and pamper its Liberal-leaning leaders in a quid pro quo that bestows on them the licence to dispense with what were once the press requirements of objectivity and impartiality; an arrangement by which the media have shown their willingness to act as Liberal propagandists by increasing their use of bias and self censorship.
One example, media attacks of Duterte’s sidelining of the press regularly contain references to the state of press freedom in the Philippines. The statistics most commonly rolled out is that the archipelago is variously the second or third most-dangerous place on Earth for journalists to operate.
On Monday, CNN said this while criticising the Philippine president for asking the media to leave so he could engage Trump in bilateral talks: “It’s also worth noting that the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a journalist”. But while that’s true it has nothing to do with Duterte – that’s been an ongoing problem since the 1990s.
Furthermore, in its usual absence of balance, what CNN neglected to mention was that Duterte – despite having a difficult relationship with the press – has done more for media safety than his predecessor, Aquino. It was Duterte, after all, who in October 2016 created a presidential task force to protect journalists and investigate attacks on media; a dedicated unit that would not only pursue investigations into past killings but would monitor media personnel thought to be in danger by providing them with protection.
It also failed to mention that in the first 40 months of Aquino’s term, 23 journalists were killed. This marked the highest annual incidence of work-related journalist murders of any of the previous four presidencies. During the term of Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 80 journalists met their deaths – 32 of them in a single incident, the infamous 2009 Maguindanao Massacre. To date, just four journalists have been killed on Duterte’s watch.
Both Trump and Duterte hold journalists in extremely low regard. Trump has described them as “sick people” and “liars” and “the enemy of the American people”. Duterte has criticised media workers for taking bribes and indulging in other corrupt activities and of producing reports “slanted” against him. And on Monday, as he asked them to “leave the room” so that he and Trump could go into closed session, he referred to them – to Trump’s approval – as “spies”.
This is a big culture shock for a media that’s used to having politicians placate them by answering questions, however barbed; however confrontational.
Overall though, what Asean and Apec have confirmed is that the leaders of four major world powers have a genuine affinity with each other as well as with President Duterte – and he with them. All have quickly found a natural rapport that will help them to pursue common interests in an atmosphere of mutual understanding. It’s never going to be a perfect world, but relations between them all – whether in diplomacy, trade or global security – are likely to prosper far better than they have for much of the recent past.
Trump is turning out to be pivotal in this new dynamic – a role which Obama could never fill. He failed to “reset” relations with Russia, he constantly rubbed China up the wrong way – certainly their relationship was frictional – and he infuriated Duterte by being critical of his domestic policy in the contest of his anti-narcotics campaign.
All that has changed. In China, for example, where Trump met with Xi prior to heading off to Apec, the two leaders agreed on a new way forward to handle relations and manage differences. “Both expressed their willingness to work with, instead of against, the other in dealing with the differences between their two countries,” reported the China Daily.
Similarly, Duterte holds a profound position in this nexus – something that Aquino could never have achieved. He had no relationship with Russia worth mentioning; he broke with China and rejected all efforts from Beijing to seek compromise and normalise ties; and his fawning relationship with Obama sowed the seeds for Duterte’s independent foreign policy which took a 180-degree turn from its traditional US trajectory.
Twelve months ago, Liberal politicians and the media were mourning the end of the US-Philippine relationship and decrying Duterte’s new foreign-policy direction to Beijing. And yet now that Washington-Manila ties have been rebalanced through Trump’s and Duterte’s efforts, those same groups have even greater concerns. The restoration of relations, apparently, is not what they want – anymore than they want the US and China or the US and Russia to get along.
What’s particularly ironic is that in October last year, after announcing his realignment to China, Duterte said this: “I’ve realigned myself in your [China’s] ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, the Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way”. As it now turns out, it would seem there are four of them ready to take on the One World agenda of the Liberal elites – China, the Philippines, Russia and the US. And that’s why the Left is worried.