At some point, two countries can be so entwined by history, treaties, trade, mutual state visits, military and economic aid that they are more, or something different from, allies or anything else. They are friends. -- W. Scott Thomnpson, New Straits Times, Oct. 25, 2016.
The news that Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appeared to turn his nation's back on the United States and enter agreements with China and Russia put in relief for me the farce we have been lately viewing. Here is a genuine matter of state, an old ally, with which we have a deep history, apparently forsaking us for our rivals in the perpetual human struggle for power.
Just to run through American cliches about the Philippines: the "American Lake" is less American and possibly less Pacific; and at least the leader of the "little brown brothers" is less an "amigo" than before.
We are concerned about the news because there are more than four million Filipino-Americans, and by far the largest number live in California. Generations of Filipino farmworkers remember the great union organizers Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Benjamin Gines, and Pete Velasquez. And a generation of students at Cal State Hayward may remember "Mr. Gonzalez," a composition and creative writing professor there, although few knew of his fiction or about the international fame of N.V.M. Gonzalez. Vera Cruz and others left behind them a union and the Paolo Agbayani Village in Delano, originally a retirement home for single elder Filipino farmworkers. Gonzalez wrote "The Tomato Game" (attached below), which describes the cruel plight of those workers.
I take Pepe Escobar's reporting and analysis seriously on a number of topics, but especially his comments on China, because he lives in Hong Kong and has been covering Asia and Eurasia for years. But Dr. W. Scott Thompson's extensive knowledge and experience of the Philippines in numerous academic and US government capacities as well as advisory roles with members of several of the Philippines' recent governments (1) requires that we listen to his more nuanced, American approach to Duterte's latest moves.
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"America Has Lost" in the Philippines
"Your honors, in this venue I announce my separation from the United States... both in military and economics also."
Thus Philippines President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte unleashed a geopolitical earthquake encompassing Eurasia and reverberating all across the Pacific Ocean.
And talk about choosing his venue with aplomb; right in the heart of the Rising Dragon, no less.
Capping his state visit to Beijing, Duterte then coined the mantra -- pregnant with overtones -- that will keep ringing all across the global South; "America has lost."
And if that was not enough, he announced a new alliance -- Philippines, China and Russia -- is about to emerge; "there are three of us against the world."
Predictably, the Beltway establishment in the indispensable nation went bananas, reacting as puzzled or in outright anger, dispersing the usual expletives on the crude populist, unhinged leader.
The bottom line is that it takes a lot of balls for the leader of a poor, developing country, in Southeast Asia or elsewhere, to openly defy the hyperpower. Yet what Duterte is gaming at is pure realpolitik; if he prevails, he will be able to deftly play the US against China to the benefit of Filipino interests.
The springtime of our relationship
It did start with a bang; during Duterte's China visit, Manila inked no less than $13 billion in deals with Beijing -- from trade and investment to drug control, maritime security and infrastructure.
Beijing pulled out all stops to make Duterte feel welcomed.
President Xi Jinping suggested Manila and Beijing should temporarily put aside the intractable South China Sea disputes and learn from the political wisdom of history -- as in give space to diplomatic talks. After all, the two peoples were blood-linked brothers.
Duterte replied in kind; "Even as we arrive in Beijing close to winter, this is the springtime of our relationship," he told Xi at the Great Hall of the People.
China is already the Philippines' second-largest trade partner, behind Japan, the US and Singapore. Filipino exports to these three are at roughly 42.7 percent of the total, compared to 22.1 to China/Hong Kong. Imports from China are roughly 16.1 percent of the total. Even as trade with China is bound to rise, what really matters for Duterte is massive Chinese infrastructure investment.
What this will mean in practice is indeed ground-breaking; the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will definitely be involved in Philippine economic development; Manila will be more involved in promoting smooth China-ASEAN relations in all sorts of regional issues (it takes the rotating chair of ASEAN in 2017); and the Philippines will be more integrated in the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. One Belt, One Road (OBOR).
Three strikes; no wonder the US is out. And there's even a fourth strike, embedded in Duterte's promise that he will soon end military cooperation with the US, despite the opposition of part of the Filipino armed forces.
Watch the First Island Chain
The build-up had already been dramatic enough. On the eve of his meeting with Xi, talking to members of the Filipino community in Beijing, Duterte said, "it's time to say goodbye to the US; I will not ask but if they (the Chinese) offer and if they'll ask me, do you need this aid? [I will say] Of course, we are very poor."
Then the clincher; "I will not go to America anymore ... We will just be insulted there."
The US was the colonial power in the Philippines from 1899 to 1942. Hollywood permeates the collective unconscious. English is the lingua franca -- side by side with tagalog. But the tentacles of Uncle Sam's protection racket are not exactly welcomed. Two of the largest components of the US Empire of Bases were located for decades in the Philippines; Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base.
Clark, occupying 230 square miles, with 15,000 people, was busy to death during the Vietnam War -- the main hub for men and hardware in and out of Saigon. Then it turned into one of those Pentagon forward operating HQs. Subic, occupying 260 square miles, was as busy as Clark. It was the forward operating base for the US 7th Fleet.
Already in 1987, before the end of the Cold War, the RAND corporation was alarmed by the loss of both bases; that would be devastating for regional security. Devastating in the -- mythical -- sense of defending the interests of ASEAN and the security of the sea-lanes .
Translation; the Pentagon and the US Navy would lose a key instrument of pressure over ASEAN, as protecting the security of the sea-lanes was always the key justification for those bases.
And lose they eventually did; Clark was closed down in November 1991, and Subic in November 1992.
It took years for China to sense an opening -- and profit from it; after all during the 1990s and the early 2000s, the absolute priority was breakneck speed internal development. But then Beijing did the math; no more US bases opened untold vistas as far as the First Island Chain is concerned.
The First Island Chain is a product, over millennia, of the fabulous tectonic forces of the Ring of Fire; a chain of islands running from southern Japan in the north to Borneo in the south. For Beijing, they work as a sort of shield for the Chinese eastern seaboard; if this chain is secure, Asia is secure.
For all practical purposes, Beijing considers the First Island Chain as a non-negotiable Western Pacific demarcation zone -- ideally with no foreign (as in US) interference. The South China Sea -- which in parts is characterized by Manila as the Western Philippine Sea -- is inside the First Island Chain. So to really secure the First Island Chain, the South China Sea must be free of foreign interference.
And here we are plunged at the heart of arguably the key 21st century hotspot in Asian geopolitics -- the main reason for the Obama administration's pivot to Asia.
The US Navy so far counted on the Philippines to oppose the proverbial, hyped up Chinese aggression in the South China and East China seas. The neocon/neoliberalcon industrial-military complex fury against unhinged Duterte's game-changer is that containing China and ruling over the First Island Chain has been at the core of US naval strategy since the beginning of the Cold War.
Beijing, meanwhile, will have all the time needed to polish its strategic environment. This has nothing to do with freedom of navigation and protecting sea-lanes; everyone needs South China Sea cross-trade. It's all about China -- perhaps within the next 10 years -- being able to deny access to the US Navy in the South China Sea and inside the First Island Chain.
Duterte's game-changing America has lost is just a new salvo in arguably the key 21st century geopolitical thriller. A Supreme Court justice in Manila, for instance, has warned Duterte that, were he to give up sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal, he could be impeached. That won't happen; Duterte wants loads of Chinese trade and investment, not abdicate from sovereignty. He'd rather be ready to confront being demonized by the hyperpower as much as the late Hugo Chavez was in his heyday.
New Straits Times
US won't go to war with China over seas
W. Scott Thompson
Honestly, I have never quite understood all the fuss about this large lake to China’s south and the Philippines’ west. Great powers, as Thucydides reminds us in the “Melian dialogue” of 416 BC, do what they can, smaller powers suffer what they must. The Philippines, of course, has a genuine military alliance with the United States, and sometimes, they confuse that with an identity, rather than overlap, of security interests.
It looks so differently from Washington than from Manila.
The US has two oceans and two neighbours who know their manners around their superpower neighbour, and gain benefits of security and economy. There is no confusion. Confusion entered only when Moscow got adventurous in the 1960s and thought they could tweak the lion’s tail in Cuba; not since.
Now as a nascent superpower, Beijing looks around and has reason to envy America. Its long Russian border almost went nuclear in 1979. Tokyo and Seoul nearby, we presume to harbour, or give grace to American nukes, though the self-serving American policy of Me No Discuss Nukes makes this a difficult topic for cocktails. But, heh, I’ve worked in the front office of the Pentagon.
Beijing nurtures clients like Laos and Cambodia while fending off Vietnam. It savours the healthy relations with Kuala Lumpur that both countries have nurtured.
To Beijing, the South China Sea looks rather like the Caribbean to Washington.
Some students got feisty in the 1980s under US president Ronald Reagan in a tiny island named Grenada, and poof, like the magic dragon, nice clients replaced them, who knew their place.
I’m not approving. I’m saying that this is the way the world works. We apply rules and enhance international order, and it works until a superpower wants something different.
The problem with the ruling for Manila on the sea is less that America will fight to defend Filipino claims, than that Beijing will fight to flout it.
It has promised to ignore the ruling from The Hague tribunal, and will probably go much farther and put down deeper roots in the sea. That adds to the trend all over the world against order and towards world chaos.
Of course, it’s not only China versus the Philippines. Lots of countries have interests there. Just now the French have made clear that they will come to visit. France has a world view, and worldwide interests. Its territorial waters are the second largest in the world. It has islands all over the Pacific, a million citizens, historic interests in Indochina, and not a bad navy.
This is one front Moscow doesn’t need and it has said so. London is adjusting to diminution, not expansion. Although I thought President Barack Obama might spoil for a last fight, he has chosen a melancholy final six months of contemplating how the world might just hang together with little steps, following his superb efforts doing just that since 2009.
We hardly know how lucky we have been. Whether it’s the clown or the merciless Hillary Clinton machine winning, the White House won’t be doing anything in the South China Sea before 2018.
The big question is whether Asean can survive in anything, save a husk of its former self. Decades ago, there was the “Asean way of doing things”— consensus — and even almost a common dress.
Thailand played a key role in its formation, but now may wish Asean did not exist. China has emerged in the meantime and Thailand knows its place. Beijing, after all, funded a Communist party in the Thai north and northeast for decades, and only when Bangkok showed respect did the party and its urban troublemakers disappear.
Back to the crux of the problem, and back to the Philippines. In the 1990s, under president Fidel Ramos, the archipelago was growing by leaps and bounds.
I recall teasing a powerful dean of the best university that the attitude towards other Asean countries was going a little over the top.
Didn’t the Philippines want to walk in step with them? “Why should we care what they think?” was her reply.
Filipinos, now again, want to revive the Sabah claim. The issue is not even its validity. Denmark can claim Iceland, Sweden can claim most of northern Europe, Russia can claim and is claiming its old borders. The Sabah “isn’t on”, and it looks silly. This will bedevil and could destroy what’s left of Asean.
President Rodrigo Duterte is smart and might work a deal with Beijing, as he’s proposing to share the riches of the South China Sea. He must work fast.
China is going to take it, because it can. The Philippines will suffer what it must. Uncle Sam is not going to war with China over China’s Caribbean.
W. Scott Thompson is professor emeritus of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the US
New Straits Times
Of words, policies and structures
BY W. SCOTT THOMPSON -
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made waves again, this time in China with his proposal to shred relations with the United States. Now that was certainly a fine win by Beijing, which would love the Philippines to scrap American access to five bases in the archipelago. Actually, it would probably be a good thing if Washington and Manila looked carefully over the hundreds of agreements that emanate from the 70-year Mutual Defence Treaty.
The president left much unstated, however, and his cabinet members have been quick to backtrack on his proposals. The US enjoys cordial relations here, and 92 per cent of Pinoys are “accepting” of the relationship, according to an authoritative Pew poll.
I’m not sure why they should like us, given our brutal suppression of their revolution 115 years ago, but there’s nowhere on earth I feel more welcome (including the US itself, given the disgusting campaign Donald Trump is waging).
There are almost five million Filipino-Americans, and some shopping centres in the San Diego area contain only regional variants of national specialties in individual shops, from Ilocano to the Ata of Mindanao.
Anyway, words matter, and Duterte’s speeches force everyone back to the drawing board. Wait though. Imagine a pyramid as change in a state. Declarations by authorities might be seen as the top third of the pyramid. Leaders come and go, they often change their own words.
In the longer term, we political scientists look for serious policy changes that will endure past a particular leader’s service. That’s the middle of the pyramid.
The heavy bottom of the pyramid is structural. The Russian revolution in 1917, or Iran’s in 1979, come to mind. Now, Duterte has certainly intimated that that’s exactly what he intends: he will destroy the blood-sucking old elite, he will make his country federal and turn it from a presidential to parliamentary system. The reforms he has proposed, and some he has already implemented, are admirable.
Unless there is in fact a war, which as in 1917 the Leninists used for a Bolshevik coup d’état, or a systematic takeover from below, as the Ayatollahs did from the mosques. It is not easy or quick to change countries as big as the Philippines.
President Fidel Ramos set out in 1992 with a systematic programme of reform and made huge strides. He worked very closely with Malaysia to bring in serious new investment, and had lengthy “four-eyes” meetings with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Of course, the Philippines should review its position in the so-called South China Sea with China, but from a position of strength.
So, what if Beijing ignores the ruling, in favour of Manila, by the International Court of Justice? It’s still a Filipino card to play. We’re just hoping Duterte doesn’t throw that card away in advance.
It’s very tempting and understandable for a Pinoy president to go after America. Duterte has personal grievances as well. America is anyway cutting back; President Barack Obama knew we were overstretched in this more multi-polar world.
The world we helped construct after World War 2 is falling apart anyway. The Cold War ended 25 years ago, and we are facing a traditional Tsarist-style autocrat in Trump’s idol, Vladimir Putin — a traditional non-ideological enemy.
Our rather basic relationship with Britain, whether or not she was our poodle, ended with Brexit, the British vote to withdraw from the European Union; in fact, the relationship was more equal than our British cousins feared.
The Philippines’ relationship with America was also more equal than Manila feared.
From the inside, I can say during my Washington days as an assistant secretary of state, we treated our long-time ally with enormous respect; maybe in their own sensitivities, they didn’t grasp this.
It was not just the bases, though during the Cold War, of course those were vital. It’s not just the 4.6 million Filipino-Americans, though of course that counts too.
At some point, two countries can be so entwined by history, treaties, trade, mutual state visits, military and economic aid that they are more, or something different from, allies or anything else. They are friends.
Isn’t it a bit like a bilateral Commonwealth of Nations? The latter’s head is Queen Elizabeth, but in most Commonwealth countries, that’s considered a good thing. The American president’s position as most powerful wo/man in the world isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even in Manila. Many of our allies consider it a good thing, and I hope Duterte, now that he’s got some insults off his chest, can sit back and enjoy good relations with Beijing — and Washington.
W. Scott Thompson is professor emeritus of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the US
By N.V.M Gonzalez
You must believe me when I say that I've tried again and again to write this story. The man remains vivid in my memory, alone in his clapboard shack in the middle of a Sacramento Valley tomato field. It is a particularly warm Sunday, in the height of summer. Also, it is the year of my miserable lectureship at Transpacifica University, which caters to the needs of such an industry. Well, it's all because of the ethnic pot. A certain number of offerings oriented toward the minorities, and the university becomes entitled to certain funds. You have read, in the papers how Transpacifica gave an honoris causa to a certain personage – a prestigious thing to do – which is that, indeed. Look up the word in the dictionary; I do mean what I say. But to return to that summer when, in a fit of nostalgia, I had agreed to go with Sopi (you must know him, of course) to look up some countrymen who might be into the national pastime of cockfighting. It is illegal here, hence a San Francisco Chronicle headline – "Transpacifica Lecturer in Bloody Bird Tourney Raid" – did not seem at all unlikely.
We risked it anyhow and got much more. As in myth, the signs were all over: the wooden bridge; the folk of the road; the large track all around as which earlier had been a tomato field; the harvesting machine to one side of the field, a men-acting hulk, indicating how rich the crop had been – you can see how hard I try. Would that I could have it in me to put all this together.
I can tell you at this juncture that Alice and her young man must be somewhere here in America. So is the old man, I'm positive. The likes of him endure.
"To such a man," Sopi said to me afterwards, "pride is of the essence. He is the kind who tells himself and his friends that as soon as he is able – in twenty, thirty years, say – he will return to the Islands to get himself a bride. How can you begrudge him that?" But it's the sort of talk that makes me angry, and at the time I certainly was.
I am now embarrassed, though, over how we behaved at the shack. We could have warned the old man. We could have told him what we felt. Instead, we teased him.
"Look, Lolo," Sopi said. "Everything's ready, eh?"
For, true enough, he had furnished the clapboard shack with a brand-new bed, a refrigerator, a washing machine – an absurdity multiplied many times over by the presence, Sopi had noticed earlier, of a blue Ford coupe in the yard. "That's for her..." Sopi had said.
We enjoyed the old man immensely. He didn't take offense – no, the old man didn't. "I've been in this all along, since the start. Didn't I make the best deal possible, Lolo?"
"Ya, Attorney," the old man said.
"He could have stayed in Manila for a while, lived with her, made friends with her at least," Sopi turned to me as if to tell me to keep my eyes off the double bed. The flower designs on the headboard were tooled on gleaming brass. "But his visa was up. He just had to be back. Wasn't that the case, Lolo?"
"Ya, Attorney. Nothing there any more for me," the old man said.
"And this taxi-driver boy, is he coming over too?"
Sopi, of course, knew that the boy was – bag and baggage, you might stay.
"That was the agreement," the old man said. "I send him to school – like my son."
"You know, Lolo, that that will never do. He's young, he's healthy. Handsome, too."
"You thinking of Alice?" the old man asked.
"She's twenty-three," Sopi reminded him. I figured the old man was easily forty or forty-five years her senior.
"Alice, she's okay. Alice, she is good girl," said the old man. "That Tony-boy... he's bright boy."
As an outsider, I felt uneasy enough. But the old man's eyes shown with fatherly satisfaction. There was no mistaking it. Wrong of you, I said to myself, to have cocksure ideas about human nature.
I saw Sopi in the mirror of my prejudices. He was thin but spry, and he affected rather successfully the groovy appearance of a professional, accepted well enough in the community and, at that, with deserved sympathy. Legal restrictions required that he pass the California Bar before admission to the practice of law amongst his countrymen. Hence, the invention which he called Montalban Import-Export. In the context of our mores he was the right person for the job the old man wanted done. Alice was Sopi's handiwork in a real sense, and at no cost whatsoever. Enough, Sopi explained to me, that you put yourself in the service of your fellows. I believed him. He knew all the lines, all the cliches.
I could feel annoyance, then anger, welling up inside me. Then, suddenly, for an entire minute at least, nothing on earth could have been more detestable than this creature I had known by the tag "Sopi." Sophio Arimuhanan, Attorney-at-Law, Importer-Exporter (parenthetically) of Brides – and, double parenthesis please, of brides who cuckolded their husbands right from the start. In this instance, the husband in question was actually a Social Security number, a monthly check, an airline ticket.
And I was angry because I couldn't say all this, because even if that were possible it would be out of place. I didn't have the right; I didn't even understand what the issues were. I was to know about the matter of pride later, later. And Sopi had to explain. It was galling to have him do that.
But at that moment I didn't realize he had been saying something else to me. "This Alice – she's hair-dresser. She'll be a success here. Easily. You know where we found her? Remember? Where did we find her, Lolo?"
The old man remembered, and his eyes were smiling.
"In Central Market. You know those stalls. If you happen to be off guard, you can get pulled away from the sidewalk and dragged into some shop for a – what do you call it here? – a blow job!"
The old man smiled, as if to say, "I know, I know…"
"We tried to look up her people afterwards. Not that this was necessary. She's of age. But we did look anyway. She had no people any more to worry over, it turned out," Sopi went on. "She did have somebody who claimed to be an aunt, or something – sold tripe and liver at the meat section. She wanted some money, didn't she, Lolo?"
"Ya, ya," the old man said. "All they ask money. Everyone." And there must have been something exhausting about recalling all that. I saw a cloud of weariness pass over his face.
"But we fixed that, didn't we?"
"Ya, ya," said the old man.
"Then there was the young man. A real obstacle, this taxi-driver boy. Tony by name," Sopi turned to me, as if to suggest that I had not truly appreciated the role he played. "We knew Tony only from the photograph Alice carried around in her purse. But hewas as good as present in the flesh all the time. The way Alice insisted that the old man take him on as a nephew; and I had to get the papers through. Quite a hassle, that part. It's all over now; isn't it, Lolo?"
"Ya, ya," said the old man. "I owe nothing now to nobody. A thousand dollars that was, no?"
"A thousand three hundred," said Sopi. "What's happened? You've forgotten!"
"You short by three hundred? I get check book. You wait," said the old man.
"There's where he keeps all his money" Sopi said to me.
He meant the old bureau, a Salvation Army piece against the clapboard wall. Obviously Sopi knew the old man in and out.
"No need for that, Lolo. It's all paid for," he said.
The old man's eyes brightened again. "I remember now!"
"Every cent went where it should go," Sopi said to me.
"I believe you."
"So what does her last letter say?"
"They have ticket already. They come any day now," the old man said.
"You'll meet them at the airport?"
"You've a school in mind for Tony-boy?"
And hardly had I asked then when regrets overwhelmed me. I should know about schools. The Immigration Service had not exactly left Transpacifica alone, and for reasons not hard to find. They had a package deal out there that had accounted for quite a few Southeast Asian, South Vietnamese, and Singaporean students. Filipinos, too. Visa and tuition seemed workable as a combination that some people knew about. A select few. It was a shame, merely thinking of the scheme. But, strangely enough, my anger had subsided.
"Ya," the old man then said. Tony had a school already.
"That's why I wanted you to meet the old man," Sopi said. "Help might be needed in the area – sometime. Who can say?"
"You don't mean Transpacifica, do you?"
"That's your school … right?"
"How so?" I asked.
"Eight hundred dollars a year is what the package costs. The old man paid that in advance. It's no school, as you know."
"I only work there. It's not my school," I said.
All right, all right," Sopi said. "There's all that money, and paid in advance, too . . . so this 'nephew,' bogus though he might be, can come over. You understand. We're all in this."
I began to feel terrible. I wanted to leave the shack and run to the field outside, to the tomatoes that the huge harvesting machine had left rotting on the ground. The smell of ketchup rose from the very earth. If it did not reach the shack, the reason was the wind carried it off elsewhere.
"Ya, they here soon," the old man was saying. "Tomorrow maybe I get telegram. Alice here, it'll say. Tony, too. You know I like that boy. A good boy, this Tony. Alice... me not too sure. But maybe this Tony, a lawyer like you some day. Make plenty money like you," said the old man to Sopi.
"Or like him," said Sopi, pointing to me. "Make much-much more, plenty-plenty . . ."
The old man seemed overjoyed by the prospect, and I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The old man had trusted Sopi all along, and you couldn't but believe that he had seen enough models of Tony before.
We had come that Sunday, as I started to tell you, to see if we could watch a cockfight. When we left the shack finally, Sopi said to me, "To think that that old man hasn't even met the boy."
As we drove down the road toward the fork that led to the wooden bridge, the smell of ripe tomatoes kept trailing us. That huge machine had made a poor job of gathering the harvest; and so here, Greg, is perhaps the message.
(From The Bread of Salt and Other Stories, University of Washington Press, 1993)
(1) Professor W. Scott Thompson is emeritus faculty member of the The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, 1967.... Dr. Thompson has advised two Filipino presidents, its National Security Council, and four Filipino cabinet members, on the matter of searching for and repatriating funds stolen during the Marcos dictatorship. He has similarly advised the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG), ACt #1 of the 'People's Power' Constitution of 1987, whose sole function is said wealth repatriation, and co-authored the biography of former Philippines President Fidel Ramos, Trustee of the Nation..