Get­ting real at ASEAN

The Freeman - - OPINION -

But of course there were no dis­cus­sions on hu­man rights or ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in the Ro­drigo Duterte-Don­ald Trump talks. Those who ex­pected other­wise were naive to think so. Trump is no Barack Obama, who treated Duterte so high-hand­edly. Be­sides, any talk of hu­man rights or ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for a very pub­lic meet­ing such as the Asean Sum­mit, whether in the main or on the side­lines. Only pri­vate calls be­tween real men would suf­fice.

Trump also could not risk alien­at­ing Duterte fur­ther, es­pe­cially at this time when it has a sticky thorn on its side in North Korea. If at all,Amer­ica needs all the al­lies in can have in the re­gion, re­gard­less of whether their records are spotty or im­mac­u­late. If North Korea has to be iso­lated, then it is a num­bers game for the United States, not a moral­ity ses­sion.

There is also the mat­ter of Trump be­ing per­son­ally im­pressed by Duterte. They hap­pen to share many char­ac­ter­is­tics that other peo­ple feel un­com­fort­able about but which have helped them in more prac­ti­cal ways than one. Both lead­ers, be­cause of their un­con­ven­tion­al­ity, are not be­ing given the credit they de­serve, es­pe­cially by their crit­ics who just could not ac­cept why they be­came lead­ers in the first place.

Duterte,forex­am­ple,is­be­ing­wide­ly­crit­i­cized­by­self-pro­claimed na­tion­al­ists for sup­pos­edly aban­don­ing the Philip­pine claim to parts of the South China Sea. But Duterte has not aban­doned the claim. He is just not pur­su­ing it in the man­ner his crit­ics want it pur­sued. In fact, he is us­ing the claim to gain con­ces­sions from China even with­out hav­ing to state it.

Do you re­ally think China would give the Philip­pines any­thing if it be­lieves Duterte has al­ready given up the coun­try's claim? If the Philip­pines were to give up its claim, then China would owe the Philip­pines no con­ces­sion any­more. What Duterte is do­ing is sim­ply not men­tion­ing the is­sue. By leav­ing it un­said, he im­plies it. Which is fine with China be­cause it is not em­bar­rassed be­fore the world. In ex­change, China is be­ing gen­er­ous with its ex­cess.

The other side of the coin would have been war. China made it very plain to Duterte. Xi Jin­ping told Duterte that to his face. When first they per­son­ally met, Duterte told Xi that there will be a time when the Philip­pines will come to col­lect. And Xi told Duterte "then we will go to war." Just like that. The way the mes­sage was de­liv­ered was more fear­some and scary than if Xi were to have per­orated be­fore the me­dia like Obama used to do against China and against Duterte.

Xi is calm, col­lected and hardly speaks un­less spo­ken to. He sports a per­pet­ual grin that the more you look at it, the more un­nerv­ing it be­comes. So when he says he will go to war with­out the su­per­flu­ous ver­biage to couch its im­pact, you be­lieve he will. So, upon hear­ing that, Duterte changed tack. Given its present state, there was noth­ing the Philip­pines could do un­less it wanted to com­mit sui­cide. Bet­ter to par­lay the help­less­ness into some­thing prac­ti­cally ben­e­fi­cial.

As for Trump, he knows Amer­ica can no longer push its weight around in this neigh­bor­hood the way it used to with­out be­ing seen as a hyp­ocrite. The track record of the US in the Philip­pines, Viet­nam, Laos, Cam­bo­dia, even South Korea, is not re­ally some­thing to crow about as far as hu­man rights is con­cerned. And that is just in our neck of the woods. Glob­ally, Amer­ica is the most con­sis­tent "prop­per-up­per" of dic­ta­tors un­til its in­ter­ests no longer re­quire it. Then it is to hell with prox­ies.

‘Do you re­ally think China would give the Philip­pines any­thing if it be­lieves Duterte has al­ready given up the

coun­try's claim?’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.