Now that Washington has decided not to supply certain armaments to Manila, in an attempt to quell President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, Duterte’s hands are free to shop for them in China and the Russian Federation. So if that was an attempt to bring the Philippine president to heel – the old carrot and stick routine – it’s plainly failed. But it’s not just failed in terms of subduing Duterte and making him more US-obedient, Washington has also spiked its own guns for its Pivot to East Asia in the process. At least for the time being.
In short, Washington’s plans to isolate China and Russia in this region have succeeded in bringing them closer into it by providing them with a golden opportunity to befriend and assist a country it thought it had in the bag – the Philippines, probably the most geo-strategic of all the pieces in the Pacific jigsaw. Yes, it’s another staggering example of US foreign policy.
Duterte, angered by America’s tactics of denying him access to US arms, has said: “I will break up with America”. If that turns out to be the case – and right now the probability looks high – then US influence in this region will have been severely set back. First, China will have been emboldened; as will Russia, and secondly, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which the Philippines is a founding member, are not going to rally around the US to put pressure on one of their own.
Look at the political complexion of the Asean map.
Indonesia, Asean’s largest economy, has as its leader a man, Joko Widodo, a man who admires Duterte’s determination to stamp out illegal drugs in his country and would like to emulate it. Thailand, the second-largest Asean economy, ruled by a military junta that takes a similar hard line to Duterte on criminality.
Vietnam, a one-party communist state whose Ministry of Public Security is classically old school when it comes to maintaining law and order. Singapore, with one of the toughest Penal Codes in the region. Under a recent amendment, a group of five or more people can be prosecuted for forming an ‘unlawful assembly’. Malaysia, whose security services have never seen a pair of kid gloves.
Brunei, a state under Shariah Law – and the extreme form; soon they’ll introduce lapidation, the stoning to death for offences such as adultery, abortion and homosexuality. Myanmar, where all senior ministry positions are held by former generals; whose drug policies have been criticised by the United Nations as “repressive”.
And in all these countries drug trafficking is punishable by death. So in this region, Duterte is on very safe ground. It is the US that is isolated, not the Philippines.
But hold on, Washington is not simply going to walk away. There’s far too much at stake. It will continue to use the UN, the EU, its friends in Canada and Australia, its battalion of NGOs – in particular the human-rights organisations which it supports – and its propaganda wing of the mainstream media to pound Duterte and Philippine law enforcement. But it could go further.
What Washington really wants, in a phrase, is regime change; something which, in the past it has been quite adept at. The VolatilianTM expects shortly to see billionaire Leftist activist, George Soros, pumping money into this cause – though as a major donor to Amnesty International he’s already done that to some extent. Soros was able to help to remove a president in Brazil. Why not in the Philippines?
But how can one man bring down a government? Simple; with cash. He can pay for insurrection, mass protests; bankroll the unions; plunge the stock market. He can snarl the economy to a standstill. If he did it in Brazil, he can certainly do it in the Philippines. And he’ll have help, as he had in Brazil. The US Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency undoubtedly played a role in driving the Worker’s Party and its leaders, Luis Inacio da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, from power. And they’ve had plenty of practice over the years – as in Guatemala. Honduras, El Salvador, to name a few.
As in those places, what America wants right now is its own person in the presidential palace of Malacañang in Manila. In other words, almost anyone but Duterte. Make no mistake, this is a serious game and particularly at this time with so much resting on Washington’s Pivot to East Asia and its determination to establish the Trans Pacific Partnership – the biggest trade bloc the world has ever conceived. This is not conspiracy theory, Washington’s track record in underwriting coup d’états is well documented. And in all cases, its actions were predicated on geopolitical considerations.