Saturday, 22 October 2016

Philippines' Duterte says ‘Goodbye America, hello China'

Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte declares 'separation' from US, leans towards China
Philippine leader gets red-carpet welcome in Beijing; both countries agree to resume South China Sea dispute talks
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday declared his "separation" from long-time ally the United States, leaning to China as the two countries agree to resume talks on their South China Sea dispute.

At a forum attended by some 700 Chinese and Philippine business people in the Great Hall of the People, the 71-year-old former mayor said America had "lost" after 70 years of alliance between the two countries.

In the presence of Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, he said: "I've realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world - China, the Philippines and Russia. It's the only way."

He then added: "I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us."

The US and the Philippines have been close allies but relations soured after Washington expressed concerns over Mr Duterte's bloody anti-crime war - criticism that Mr Duterte took offence with. Yesterday, a US official told Agence France-Presse that Manila had not made any formal requests to alter its cooperation with Washington.

The US has been looking to Manila as an important ally in Asia as China asserts itself as a dominant world power.

Beijing has rolled out the red carpet for Mr Duterte on his four-day visit with 400 business people in tow, signalling the first steps towards mending years of strained ties. Chinese President Xi Jinping extended a warm welcome to Mr Duterte yesterday, complete with full military honours in a ceremony at the Great Hall - a rarity for visiting leaders.

In their meeting, Mr Xi said people from both countries are "brothers related by blood", and they could "appropriately handle disputes".

He added that both countries have largely managed their differences on the South China Sea issue through dialogue and consultation, since the establishment of diplomatic relations 41 years ago in 1975.

"Under this premise... China and the Philippines can have candid exchanges on everything, manage differences well, carry out cooperation and temporarily put aside problems that are difficult to agree on," said Mr Xi.

Mr Duterte, on his part, highlighted that warm relations between both sides go back a long way.

"China has been a friend of the Philippines and the roots of our bonds are very deep and not easily severed," he told Mr Xi.

"Even as we arrive in Beijing, close to winter, this is a springtime of our relationship," he added.

No details were given on when talks on the maritime disputes will resume, and what items will be tackled first. But Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters "both sides will go back to what was agreed five years ago, to seek a proper settlement of the South China Sea issues through bilateral dialogue".

Yesterday, both countries signed a pact to set up a joint coast guard committee on maritime cooperation. But one glaring omission from the meetings was the mention of Filipino fishermen's fishing rights in the waters of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which led to bilateral relations plunging to a low in 2012.

Mr Duterte had, on more than one occasion, said that he would raise the issue with Mr Xi. Chinese media and insiders had also hinted that Beijing may open up the area to Filipino fishermen in a gesture of goodwill.

Instead, both sides discussed fishery cooperation, which will include China's aid to Filipino fishermen in areas such as aquaculture and the commercial processing of fish.

Mr Duterte is scheduled to fly back to his home base of Davao this afternoon after a series of meetings with Chinese businessmen.

Duterte in China: Deals worth $19b clinched, 1m jobs to be created
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2016

BEIJING • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte garnered deals worth US$13.5 billion (S$18.8 billion) during his four-day state visit to China.

A 400-strong business delegation accompanied the President on his visit, which was aimed at boosting bilateral trade and investments. Mr Duterte was also seeking loans to help develop the Philippine economy.

At a business forum yesterday, Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said both sides had inked pacts which would create some one million jobs for Filipinos in areas mostly outside metropolitan Manila.

Chinese President Xi Jinping had agreed to extend US$6 billion worth of soft loans to Manila with another US$3 billion in credit facilities through the private Chinese banks, according to Philippine media.

Mr Duterte's anti-drugs drive would get an additional boost with 100 million yuan (S$20.7 million) committed to the building of rehabilitation centres, said the reports.

Other pacts reached included cooperation in areas such as transport, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters yesterday that China would cancel a tourism advisory against the Philippines and start encouraging out-bound tourists to visit the country. On the trade front, he said China would also lift the ban on 27 blacklisted fruit exporters from the Philippines.

Bilateral trade between China and the Philippines now stands at US$17 billion, according to Mr Lopez. He said Manila hoped that the target of US$60 billion would be reached in five years with the warming of ties. He also looked forward to the doubling or even quadrupling of Chinese tourist numbers from the current 500,000 a year "once the doors open up".

Mr Duterte and his delegation are scheduled to have another meeting today with their Chinese counterparts where more business deals are set to be sealed.

Reactions to Duterte's remarks on 'separating' from the US - In China

Beijing under no illusion Manila will pivot away from Washington after Rodrigo Duterte remarks
Media and officials silent on Duterte's effusive praise and his remarks on US
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

While Beijing has laid out the red carpet for Mr Rodrigo Duterte this week, and returned the embrace of the Philippine President, it is under no illusion that Manila will pivot away from Washington.

China may stand to gain if Mr Duterte breaks away from the US in geopolitical terms, as he said he would on Thursday. But it is fully aware that he does not decide on the Philippines' foreign policy on his own and will have to go through the political processes domestically, Chinese analysts have said.

During his four-day stay in Beijing, Mr Duterte took every opportunity to assert his anti-West stance, especially towards the US.

The 71-year-old leader went as far as to proclaim his "separation from the United States" in both military and economic terms at a business forum in Beijing on Thursday. He showered praise on the country and its people, and announced that "Duterte of the Philippines is veering towards China because China has the character of an Oriental. It does not go around insulting people".

While Beijing laid out full honours for Mr Duterte, in a reception seldom accorded to regional leaders, Chinese media and officials have been silent on his effusive praise of the Chinese and his declaration of separation from the US.

Chinese netizens, displaying some scepticism, said he was making these remarks to extract benefits from China, such as soft loans.

Some likened his "separation" from the US to a new social phenomenon in China in which people make use of fake divorces to get round restrictive regulations in order to obtain a second housing loan.

Dr Li Kaisheng from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences noted that while Mr Duterte wishes to separate from the US, what it really means is unclear. "This is not the first time Mr Duterte has said this, and it merely represents what he really feels." But it is hard to say if this will be translated into actual policies, he said.

"On the one hand, it may be good for Beijing given that the US has been using the Philippines to contain China in the region," said Dr Li.

On the flip side, if Mr Duterte gets toppled as a result of soured US-Philippine ties, Beijing may stand to lose even more given that Sino-Philippine relations are only starting to improve, he added.

Noting that there had been no reaction from Chinese officials so far to Mr Duterte's remarks, he said he did not expect them to respond.

Beijing-based analyst Zha Wen said China does not expect Manila to break its long-time alliance with Washington. "We should not take a zero-sum view on these relationships," said Dr Zha from China Foreign Affairs University.

What Beijing wants is for bilateral relations to improve and for Manila to conduct a more balanced foreign policy, she added.

Agreeing, Dr Li said the agreements and loans signed should not be viewed as carrots to support Manila's break from Washington.

Beijing has responded to Mr Duterte's friendly overtures with a lavish welcome that shows a high level of goodwill and respect.

Notably, he was given access to four of the seven members of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee: President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, top legislator Zhang Dejiang and top-ranking Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. In return, Beijing has achieved its goal of diffusing tensions in the South China Sea by reaching an agreement with Manila to resume bilateral talks on their territorial disputes.

This could signal to other countries that in handling conflicts with China, it is best to put aside disputes and focus on cooperation, said Dr Xu Liping, an Asean researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It is unrealistic to expect China to compromise, and as a big country, it has the ability to give you a lot of benefits," he added.

Senior aides seek to smooth over Rodrigo Duterte's remarks
By Raul Dancel, Philippines Correspondent In Manila, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

Senior Filipino officials have sought to appease growing unease over President Rodrigo Duterte's brash declaration in Beijing of a military and economic "separation" from the United States, his nation's treaty ally since 1951.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said it was not meant "to renege on our treaties with our established allies, but an assertion that we are an independent and sovereign nation, now finding common ground with friendly neighbours".

Speaking to businessmen at the Great Hall of the People on Thursday, Mr Duterte said: "In this venue, your honours… I announce my separation from the United States… Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost."

Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said the President "did not talk about separation. In terms of economic ties, we are not stopping trade, investment with America".

The US is the Philippines' third- largest trading partner, with annual trade amounting to US$16.5 billion (S$23 billion).

Economic Planning Minister Ernesto Pernia said "it is a rebalancing. It is not a separation". "For a long time, we have not taken very seriously our economic relations with China. This time, we feel we should really engage with China stronger."

Budget Minister Benjamin Diokno, meanwhile, said Manila's warming ties with Beijing do not mean its relationships with other countries are cooling.

There are about 3.4 million Filipinos in the US, remitting nearly US$10 billion back home annually. They make up the largest population of Filipino migrants.

About 1.2 million Filipinos work for US outsourcing companies.

Critics, analysts, politicians and social media pundits in Manila were mostly sceptical about Mr Duterte's declared alignment with China.

Former foreign minister Albert del Rosario said "the declared shift in foreign policy, casting aside a long- time, reliable ally to embrace an aggressive neighbour that vehemently rejects international law, is both unwise and incomprehensible".

Former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile reminded Mr Duterte that only the Senate could terminate the US-Philippine Mutual Defence Treaty, in effect since 1951.

Social media users were more amused, as many of Mr Duterte's own supporters said they were not willing to replace their iPhones with Huawei cellphones, delete their Facebook accounts and use Weibo instead, or cancel their US travel plans, just because Mr Duterte wants closer ties with China.

"The Filipino people are largely pro-American… President Duterte is President, but he's not the king. He'll have to take public opinion into consideration," said political science professor Richard Javad Heydarian at De La Salle University.

This is not the first time that Mr Duterte's aides have had to walk back his controversial remarks.

When he threatened to take the Philippines out of the United Nations, his communications minister clarified hours later that Mr Duterte was just exaggerating.

Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana told a Senate committee that the President has a habit of making brash pronouncements without running them by his Cabinet first.

Mr Lorenzana said he was as surprised as anyone when he heard Mr Duterte declare he was ending military exercises and sea patrols between the Philippines and the US.

The President's anti-American broadsides stem from US criticism of his human rights record.

US President Barack Obama had expressed concern over the thousands of extrajudicial killings that blighted Mr Duterte's anti-crime drive. Mr Duterte's response was to tell him to "go to hell".

US-Philippine ties will persist until further clarification, say officials
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Las Vegas, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

United States government officials were dismayed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's stunning remarks on a "separation" from the US, but said they intended to persist with ties until they can get further clarification from Manila.

The White House, State Department and Pentagon all said yesterday that they intended to keep the longstanding alliance with the Philippines despite Mr Duterte's announced realignment with China.

"We have important alliance commitments which we intend to keep in the Philippines," said Defence Secretary Ash Carter ahead of his visit to Turkey. "Obviously, any relationship is one of mutuality and we will continue to discuss that with our Philippine counterparts."

Similarly, White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters that Washington has not received any formal notice from Manila about any change to ties and stressed that the South-east Asian nation remains a strong ally.

"We have not received any official request from Philippine officials to alter any of our many issues where we bilaterally cooperate. I will tell you that we continue to be the Philippines' strongest economic partner," he said.

The Obama administration does not believe that countries have to choose sides between the US and China, he added. "We don't consider this a zero-sum game. We believe that it's in our national security interest when our partners and allies in the region have strong relationships with China, consistent with international norms."

Mr Duterte's remarks in Beijing marked a low point for US-Philippines ties and capped a series of anti-American rhetoric from the firebrand Filipino leader.

There is clearly growing concern about Mr Duterte in Washington even if the first instinct of most Asia experts and government leaders was to dismiss his remarks as posturing that may not necessarily be backed by concrete action. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US was baffled by what Mr Duterte said but it has seen his remarks retracted before. "We've seen some of this bombastic rhetoric clarified or walked back after the fact. So again, all of that gives us reason to think that there's a purpose in trying to get a better, deeper explanation on this," he said. "It's not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications, so we're going to be seeking a clarification on that."

The US top diplomat to Asia, Mr Daniel Russel, heads to the Philippines this weekend on a previously scheduled trip and the issue of Mr Duterte's comments is now likely to top the agenda. For Asia watchers, the souring of ties between Washington and Manila complicates the US military posture in the South China Sea, but they also note that Mr Duterte will not likely be able to actually pivot away from the US without suffering some political fallout at home.

South-east Asia expert Ernie Bower wrote on Twitter: "Mr Duterte will have to explain to Filipinos if he trades sovereignty, territory and his country's national security for loans from China."

South-east Asia in the time of Rodrigo Duterte
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

The body language of the famously loose-tongued Philippines President was notably subdued as his host, Chinese President Xi Jinping, escorted him to an honour guard.

The words that followed their meeting, however, were classic unfiltered Rodrigo Duterte.

"I announce my separation from the United States, both in military but economics also," he said hours later. "America has lost it."

Mr Duterte's words come as no surprise. A bit of a left-leaner ideologically, he has been railing against the lone superpower, his nation's treaty ally, for months.

But the context is notable.

The startling statement was made on Thursday to a group of Chinese and Filipino businessmen after his meeting with President Xi, who presides over the world's largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.

For good measure, Mr Duterte added some curses against President Barack Obama as well.

Incensed by Western, particularly American, criticism of his human rights record ever since he swore to clean up the drug scene in the Philippines (Beijing helpfully announced US$15 million (S$21 million) in support of his anti-drug programme), Mr Duterte may have just taken things to an extreme and taken the biggest gamble of his life.

For one thing, Philippine nationalism, once defined in terms of anti-Americanism until the US withdrew from Subic Bay and Clark Air Base in the 1990s, is these days reckoned in terms of anti-China sentiment because of Beijing's aggressive and unbending acts in the South China Sea.

Although Filipino industry and business, as with many nations in South-east Asia, is dominated by people of ethnic Chinese stock, the sentiments on the South China Sea issue are common across the board.

This contributed in large measure to the popularity of President Benigno Aquino III, Mr Duterte's predecessor.

The former mayor of Davao City clearly thinks his massive popularity - he has the second-highest ratings for his first 100 days in office since President Fidel Ramos - is backing enough for him to stand against the public sentiment where two in three Filipinos have a largely favourable view of the US versus 31 per cent who think poorly of the US and China.

Second, Mr Duterte, even as he announced his "separation" from the US in economics, does not seem to have taken into account a hard fact on the ground, which is that the boom his country has enjoyed in grabbing ever bigger slices of the outsourcing industry is on account of the Philippines' tight relationship with the West, particularly the US.

Manila now is considered to have displaced Mumbai, in India, as a favoured outsourcing destination.

Cities like Cebu in the Philippines have also come on the outsourcing map lately, as the world increasingly discovers the English-speaking talent resident in the archipelago.

Since Accenture set up the first outsourcing unit in the Philippines in 1992, outsourcing now employs nearly a million people and brings in more than US$16 billion in revenue.

Since the top clients are all Western multinationals, Mr Duterte may be putting at risk the fortunes of hundreds of thousands of young people should he move away from the US strategically.

There is also the question of remittances.

The Philippines, more than almost any other economy, is critically dependent on the US$30 billion in remittances it receives annually from the workers it sends overseas. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states dominate the pile of remittance sources, but the US follows closely. With oil prices having fallen, Gulf remittances are being hit.

Should the US, as a punitive measure, impose restrictions or a tax on remittances to the Philippines, there could be howls of protest from families across the nation that depend on these funds.

That said, there is no question that South-east Asia is in for a period of nervousness as Mr Duterte goes about attempting to realign his state's decades-long umbilical links with Washington.

Former president Ramos, at whose urging Mr Duterte ran for the presidency and is still widely influential in the Philippines, has cut away from his protege already.

The military is nervously watching as the new man at the helm orders an unravelling of long-tested strategic structures.

The next moves to watch would be not Mr Duterte's, but Mr Xi's.

At the very least, if he does not permit Filipino fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds around Scarborough Shoal, it would prove a huge let-down for their new-found admirer in Asean, one that might prove politically lethal for him.

Returning control of the shoal to Manila, for now, seems out of the question despite the arbitral ruling in Manila's favour. That's because Beijing will be mindful of what might come should Mr Duterte abruptly leave the scene, or be removed. The Philippines, after all, has a long history of coups.

"I realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will go to Russia and talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia," his office yesterday quoted him as saying.

For many in the Philippines, this might seem like a flight of fancy.

Washington, too, cannot be expected to sit idly by as Mr Duterte seeks to alter the chessboard it has set up in South-east Asia and the Pacific.

It was Mrs Hillary Clinton after all, who, as secretary of state, stood on a US warship anchored in Manila Bay and first spoke of the South China Sea as the "West Philippine Sea".

South-east Asia, clearly, is headed for interesting times.

Filipino activists clash with police at anti-US rally
Protesters hurt as police van rams into crowd amid violence outside US embassy
By Raul Dancel, Philippines Correspondent In Manila, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2016

Dozens of Filipino activists were injured, with at least 10 taken to hospital for serious injuries, when a police van rammed into them yesterday as an anti-United States rally in front of the American embassy turned violent.

A video posted online showed the van driving wildly back and forth through dozens of protesters. It reversed, then charged forward twice, barrelling through a crowd that had surrounded it. Many of those in its path fell to the ground, while a few were run over.

Protesters were seen hitting the vehicle with wooden batons seized from police officers and throwing stones at it. The melee happened as some 1,000 activists, mostly workers and students, were wrapping up a rally to demand an end to the US presence in the Philippines and back President Rodrigo Duterte's push for a foreign policy free from US influence.

The activists came from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), the largest left-wing umbrella organisation here. Two of Mr Duterte's Cabinet ministers are from this group.

Protest leader Renato Reyes said some activists were injured and at least 23 were arrested.

Mr Duterte, who considers himself a socialist, has rained an almost daily barrage of abuses at the US, at one point telling President Barack Obama to "go to hell".

He has been bristling at US criticisms of his anti-crime drive, which has left over 3,000 criminal suspects dead at the hands of police and vigilantes in its wake since he took office on June 30. He ended war games between Philippine and US troops as he drifts closer to China amid threats of a pullout of American investments here.

He is currently on a state visit to China, where he is seeking to mend ties strained under his predecessor over territorial conflicts in the South China Sea, and to court Chinese investments.

Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde insisted that the van's driver, a police officer, was not deliberately trying to run over the protesters. "They were trying to flip over the patrol car. In the process, the driver extricated the patrol car and inadvertently hit some unruly protesters," he said. He said 32 policemen were injured in the melee.

Mr Reyes denied that protesters provoked the police into attacking.

"In the first place, the rally was about to end. The protesters were preparing to leave. Why did they fire tear gas and assault the protesters," he said.

Police lobbed tear gas as protesters broke through a line of riot police and hurled paint at the officers and a US government seal at the start of the rally at the seaside embassy compound.

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