Trump’s Rus­sia, Duterte’s China

Ev­ery­one who has ap­peared to cross Duterte has got­ten an ear­ful of in­vec­tives, in­clud­ing the Pope him­self — ev­ery­one but Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

Business World - - OPINION - GREG MACABENTA GREG B. MACABENTA is an ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man shut­tling be­tween San Fran­cisco and Manila and pro­vid­ing unique in­sights on is­sues from both per­spec­tives. greg­macabenta@hot­mail.com

Siegfried and Roy had a long-run­ning and very suc­cess­ful act at the Mi­rage Casino in Las Ve­gas. The act fea­tured two white tigers that did mar­velous tricks at the crack of the train­ers’ whips. Then one day, one of the tigers at­tacked Roy and mauled him within an inch of his life. The act has since been can­celed and the rogue tiger has been put to sleep.

The ob­vi­ous les­son here is that no mat­ter how mas­ter­ful you be­lieve you are as an an­i­mal trainer, you never know when a wild beast will turn on you. That les­son holds true not just for those train­ing tigers but also for heads of state who fancy them­selves good at deal­ing with the Rus­sian bear and the Chi­nese dragon.

Amer­i­can me­dia and the US in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity still can­not fathom the re­la­tion­ship that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has or wants to de­velop with Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin. Since his elec­tion to the pres­i­dency and up to his visit to Asia to at­tend the ASEAN Sum­mit, Trump has spo­ken through both sides of his mouth on the is­sue of Rus­sian med­dling in the last US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, in spite of its im­pli­ca­tions of national se­cu­rity.

In re­sponse to ques­tions by me­dia about his stand on al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence with the very foun­da­tion of Amer­i­can democ­racy, the US in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s find­ings that con­firmed this in­ter­fer­ence, and Putin’s de­nial of the al­le­ga­tion, Trump said that he be­lieved Putin.

In the next breath, he also said that he be­lieved the US in­tel­li­gence ser­vice. Huh??? On the other hand, po­lit­i­cal ob­servers and con­cerned cit­i­zens are watch­ing with grow­ing con­cern the seem­ing pas­siv­ity to­wards China of the no­to­ri­ously pug­na­cious and foul-mouthed Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte. This, in spite of China’s undis­guised en­croach­ment on parts of the South China Sea be­ing claimed by the Philip­pines.

Ev­ery­one who has ap­peared to cross Duterte has got­ten an ear­ful of in­vec­tives, in­clud­ing the Pope him­self — ev­ery­one but Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

If Trump, in his own “Trump­ish” way, has been try­ing to “strike a bal­ance” in his at­ti­tude to­wards Putin and Amer­ica’s in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, he promptly tor­pe­doed that by call­ing the lat­ter “po­lit­i­cal hacks.”

That has not been the first time Trump has spo­ken un­flat­ter­ingly about Amer­ica’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, or about ev­ery­one and any­one whose views he does not agree with, in­clud­ing lead­ers of the Repub­li­can Party.

On the other hand, in spite of over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence of Rus­sian med­dling with the US elec­tions — not to men­tion Putin’s hand in the Syr­ian con­flict and other sen­si­tive international is­sues — Trump has avoided say­ing any­thing against the Rus­sian leader.

This has led the me­dia, the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion, and skep­ti­cal Amer­i­cans to spec­u­late that Putin has some­thing on Trump or that the is­sue of “col­lu­sion” be­tween the Rus­sians and Trump’s cam­paign team will even­tu­ally lead Special Counsel Robert Mueller to the front steps of the White House and all the way to the Oval Of­fice.

Yet, Trump’s apol­o­gists blithely ar­gue that Trump’s ap­proach is a prac­ti­cal and re­al­is­tic way of deal­ing with Putin, the bet­ter to get his co­op­er­a­tion in solv­ing the Syr­ian cri­sis, elim­i­nat­ing ISIS and cool­ing down other hot spots around the world.

Rank­ing for­mer of­fi­cials of the US in­tel­li­gence ser­vices have bluntly de­scribed this ap­proach as naïve.

In the case of Duterte, “mil­i­tary black­mail” ap­pears to be the rea­son for his at­ti­tude to­wards China, which his crit­ics have char­ac­ter­ized as pas­sive-to-meek-to-fawn­ing.

Duterte has not been em­bar­rassed to ad­mit that go­ing to war with China would mean to­tal de­struc­tion for the Philip­pines. Never mind that this ren­ders mean­ing­less the words of the Philip­pine national an­them that vows, “Aming ligaya na pag may man­gaapi, ang ma­matay nang dahil sa iyo (the orig­i­nal English lyrics went, But it is glory, ever when thou art wronged for us thy sons to suf­fer and die).”

But Duterte and his apol­o­gists do not end there. They un­abashedly cite the car­rot and stick anal­ogy, point­ing out that bel­liger­ence to­wards China, which they at­tribute to the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Benigno S. C. Aquino III, only got Philip­pine exports banned, while mak­ing friends with the Chi­nese has gen­er­ated eco­nomic ben­e­fits.

Early this year, af­ter a three-day visit to China, Duterte an­nounced that he had wan­gled sev­eral in­vest­ment and fi­nanc­ing agree­ments amount­ing to $24 bil­lion — $15 bil­lion in in­vest­ments and $9 bil­lion in terms of credit fa­cil­i­ties. Ac­cord­ing to him, the bo­nanza would gen­er­ate at least two mil­lion jobs.

Duterte fur­ther de­clared that, as part of a $ 10- bil­lion in­vest­ment pack­age, “China has promised us, for all their good­ness…to build two bridges over the Pasig River. Free. Gratis. And I bow in grat­i­tude.”

One so­cial me­dia pun­dit pointed out that the loan comes with “strings at­tached,” to which a kib­itzer quipped, “You mean, a string of is­lands at­tached.”

How­ever, like Trump, Duterte has also spo­ken through both sides of his mouth in ex­plain­ing his stand on the South China Sea is­sue. He has re­peat­edly in­sisted that he would not give up an inch of Philip­pine ter­ri­tory in his deal­ings with China.

Yet, af­ter be­ing cau­tioned that China was cov­etously eye­ing more and more Philip­pine ter­ri­tory, while os­ten­si­bly set­ting up an en­vi­ron­ment mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion in the area, Duterte replied that it could not be pre­vented from do­ing so, be­sides which the Philip­pines could not af­ford to go to war with China.

As­sum­ing that “the Philip­pines is no match to China mil­i­tar­ily,” Se­nior Supreme Court As­so­ciate Jus­tice An­to­nio Car­pio sug­gested five things Duterte could do, first of which was to “file a strong protest” against China’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

“This is the least that the Pres­i­dent should do,” said Car­pio.

But the most sting­ing ad­vice that Car­pio gave was: “Avoid any act, state­ment or dec­la­ra­tion that ex­pressly or im­pliedly waives Philip­pine sovereignty to any Philip­pine ter­ri­tory in the West Philip­pine Sea. This will pre­serve for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Filipinos their national pat­ri­mony in the West Philip­pine Sea. Any state­ment that the Philip­pines can­not stop China from build­ing on Scar­bor­ough Shoal ac­tu­ally en­cour­ages China to build on Scar­bor­ough Shoal.”

Just as Trump’s in­tel­li­gence branch do not buy his fawn­ing at­ti­tude to­wards Putin, Duterte’s De­fense chief, re­tired Ma­jor Gen­eral Delfin Loren­zana has ex­pressed doubts about China’s sup­pos­edly harm­less “in­no­cent pas­sage” through Philip­pine ter­ri­tory, as ra­tio­nal­ized by Duterte. Said Loren­zana in a me­dia in­ter­view,

“Alam mo na­man ‘ yung in­no­cent pas­sage, Point A to Point B. Na­pak­aba­gal eh. Tapos tu­mitigil sa isang lu­gar. Mag­ta­gal doon ng ilang araw. Li­pat na­man sa ka­bi­lang lu­gar.

So that is not in­no­cent pas­sage ( We know in­no­cent pas­sage is from Point A to Point B. But the Chi­nese ship was very slow. It was stop­ping in one area to stay there for a few days. And then it would move to an­other area),” he said.

Duterte has dis­missed these ap­pre­hen­sions as alarmist. De­scrib­ing the Philip­pines’ rosy re­la­tions with China, he chimed, “Things are get­ting great our way. Why spoil it?”

One as­tute ob­server, com­ment­ing on the at­ti­tudes of Trump and Duterte, de­scribed the for­mer as “de­vi­ous, with some­thing to hide” and the lat­ter as “naïve, with a yel­low streak.”

Then he asked the rhetor­i­cal ques­tion: Which at­ti­tude is bet­ter? To which he also gave the an­swer: “NOTA. None of the above.”

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