[OPINION] Foreign partners

October 30, 2017 at 14:44

Foreign partners

President Duterte’s idols, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, are skipping the ASEAN-Plus summit with dialogue partners that the Philippines gets to host only once in a decade, and which Duterte gets to chair only once in his lifetime.

But Putin has sent 5,000 AK-74M assault rifles and a million bullets as donations to the Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as 5,000 steel helmets and 20 multi-purpose vehicles.

China also donated 3,000 M4 rifles and six million bullets to the AFP, on top of the M-16s donated at the height of the Marawi siege. The AFP gave the M4s to the Philippine National Police, but will likely keep the Kalashnikovs – from the same Russian maker of the world’s most popular assault rifle, the AK 47.

As a Philippine treaty ally, Uncle Sam has been with the AFP almost from the start of the siege, providing missiles when the AFP’s limited supply ran out, apart from artillery, smaller weapons and ammo, drones, night vision and other surveillance equipment. Defense partner Australia also provided early assistance in combat.

Foreign partners contributed to the success of the campaign against the Mautes in Marawi. The government will continue to need outside help in the equally challenging task of rebuilding the city, and in confronting the lingering threat posed by Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists.

It would be useful for the President and commander-in-chief to remember this each time he feels like ranting against the country’s friends.

President Duterte has made his point: he doesn’t like open criticism and being told what to do by foreigners. It looks like foreign capitals got the message quickly and have been channeling their concerns through diplomatic or official channels rather than in public. By now they must be aware that the worst scenario is when criticism is vented through mass media, which seems to trigger a Pavlovian reaction from Duterte: he’s certain to throw a fit, not just once but at almost every public engagement.

However, there are ways of telling critics to shove it without jeopardizing long-standing bilateral ties. Duterte’s aides can do the nation a favor by advising him about the advantages of circumspection when it comes to international relations.

He’s taking criticism of his policies as a personal affront, but the damage from his rants and actions can adversely affect the nation long after he’s out of power.

* * *

At least ties with Washington have improved, thanks in large part to US President Donald Trump, who has hit it off with Duterte. Personal relations are important for this Philippine President.

Trump is showing up in Manila next month, although he’s skipping the East Asia Summit in Pampanga after the main Association of Southeast Asian Nations event and the ASEAN-US summit. Trump will be proceeding to the Philippines from the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. Xi and Putin, who are both expected to attend the APEC summit, are sending their No. 2 officials to the Philippines.

It’s probably just as well that Xi is skipping the ASEAN summit. Philippine officials have said that Duterte, as ASEAN chair for the first and last time, intends to raise the South China Sea issue during the summit. The President of the Philippines can’t afford to sidestep the maritime dispute; no one else is going to stand up for us in ASEAN.

Xi, now China’s most powerful leader after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, was reportedly not amused when Duterte, during their meeting in Beijing last May, mentioned the ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Arbitration Court (PAC).

Duterte bared plans to explore for oil in an area where the PCA had awarded the Philippines sovereign rights. Xi’s response: if the Philippines forced the issue, China would go to war.

Toughie Rody’s response? Maybe Xi’s warning contributed to warming relations between Manila and Washington, even as Duterte appeared to shrug off the Chinese warning. Yesterday US Ambassador Sung Kim said bilateral ties were back to normal.

* * *

Despite the warning of war, Manila and Beijing have continued strengthening ties. Apart from the weapons and ammo donated during the Marawi siege, China also recently donated heavy equipment for the rebuilding of the city.

Administration officials have emphasized that the government welcomes such assistance without conditionalities or “interference” in Philippine domestic affairs.

In reality, there is a basic conditionality attached to Chinese aid: Philippine acquiescence to the status quo in the South China Sea, including Chinese occupation of areas where the arbitration court had awarded the Philippines sovereign rights: Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank, with Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal declared a common fishing ground.

Chinese official development assistance (ODA) – mainly long-term loans with three percent interest rather than outright grants – also carry one conditionality: the contractor must be China-led, which favors their companies.

ODA from certain other countries require that projects for funding comply with global standards on good governance to ensure proper aid utilization as well as reasonable compliance with human rights including labor rights.

What’s wrong with those conditionalities? They can’t be worse than having Philippine territory taken away from us.

We need friends everywhere, instead of picking up unnecessary fights.

Source: http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2017/10/27/1752890/foreign-partners

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