MANILA, Philippines — Beijing has expressed its support for President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against the illegal drug trade despite criticisms from the United States, the European Union and some human rights groups.
The chief executive has come under fire for the rising number of extrajudicial and vigilante killings of drug suspects ever since he took office.
“Under the leadership of President Duterte, the new Philippine government enacted policies that prioritize combating drug-related crimes. China understands and supports that,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a press briefing on Thursday.
Geng stressed that the Chinese government has played a positive role in the international anti-drug campaign.
“China understands and supports that. We stand ready to have anti-drug cooperation with the Philippines and formulate a common action plan for it,” Geng said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry official further noted that fighting drug crimes is a shared responsibility among all countries around the world.
“The Chinese government is resolute in cracking down on drug crimes. With clearly-defined policies and notable achievements, China is a staunch force in the international endeavor against drug crimes,” the Chinese official said.
An American senator has warned that the United States may reconsider its assistance to the Philippines if the extrajudicial killings and state-sanctioned violence continue.
US Sen. Patrick Leahy said that it may be necessary to look into the conditions on assistance to the Duterte administration to ensure that taxpayer funds are properly spent.
The senator authored the Leahy Law which prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defense from providing assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that the Philippine government respects the opinion of other nations and stressed that the country remains committed to human rights.
“We respect the opinion of others but we also give ourselves the permission to chart our own course and fulfill our destiny on our own terms,” Abella said.
RELATED: Duterte to visit China on October 20
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte travels to China next month on a visit that could redraw alliances in East Asia after his incendiary comments about the United States and active courting of Washington’s chief rivals.
The friendly relationship between the Philippines and the United States has been one of the pillars of Washington’s strategic military rebalance to Asia under President Barack Obama. But the alliance has been under strain since Duterte came to power three months ago and chafed at U.S. criticism of his bloody war on drugs, which has led to the killing of more than 3,100 alleged drug users and dealers by police and vigilantes.
He has insulted Obama and then made it clear the Philippines will pursue a much more independent foreign policy than it has in the past.
That has included the Philippines extending an olive branch to China, despite the two countries being locked for years in a bitter territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Duterte has also spoken of reaching out to Russia.
“Ever since President Duterte took office, China and Philippines have been engaging in friendly interactions, which have yielded a series of positive results,” Zhao Jianhua, the Chinese ambassador to Manila, said at a Chinese National Day reception at the embassy this week.
“The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon, and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations,” Zhao said.
Duterte plans to visit Beijing from Oct 19-21, and hold talks with both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
Diplomatic and business sources in Manila have said he will be accompanied by about two dozen businessmen, which could lead to deals being forged that could underpin any improved bilateral ties.
But key to a successful visit will be an understanding of how to approach the dispute over the South China Sea. Beijing has angrily rejected a decision by an international court in July that ruled China’s claims to the waterway were invalid, after a case was brought by the Philippines.
Duterte wants China to abide by the ruling and allow access to the Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. But he has not insisted on the ruling being implemented and said he would like to negotiate on the row.
“Duterte giving us face means we have to rethink our policy,” a source with ties to China’s leadership and the military told Reuters. “We have to reciprocate his courtesy.”
Getting Filipino fishermen access to the Scarborough Shoal would be a major win for Duterte and add to his already sky-high domestic popularity. According to a recent survey, he has a record high approval rating of 92 percent even as he faces international opprobrium for the killings.
“When Duterte visits China next month, his agenda will focus on trade, investments and fishery cooperation with China, including access to Scarborough,” a Philippines foreign ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Zha Daojiong, an international relations professor at China’s Peking University, said a deal over renewed Philippines access to Scarborough Shoal could be expected at the visit. But he said it would be a verbal rather than written agreement to avoid formally acknowledging the international court’s ruling, which upheld the historic fishing rights of both states.
“There’s many ways this meeting could be productive…even if there is likely to be some caution on both sides,” Zha said.
Officially, Beijing has yet to confirm Duterte’s visit, but the foreign ministry has said it welcomes a visit by him at an early date.
The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in an editorial last week it could lead to a new chapter in ties.
“A new, positive interaction between China and the Philippines, starkly different from the Aquino era, may be unveiled,” it said, referring to the previous Philippines president, Benigno Aquino.
“Duterte shows stark differences from his predecessor in diplomacy and style. He seems to prefer more balanced diplomatic relations with other countries rather than being too reliant on the U.S.”
Duterte has this month struck at the heart of ties with the United States by saying the two countries would not hold any joint naval patrols during his six-year tenure and calling for the withdrawal of U.S. special forces stationed in the restive south of the country. On Friday, he outraged Jewish groups by appearing to compare himself to Adolf Hitler, which could heap more pressure on Washington to publicly turn against him.
Despite the uncertainty, U.S. officials have maintained that all remains well.
“As it has been for decades, our alliance with the Philippines is ironclad,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Thursday, speaking to American sailors aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson at its home port in San Diego.
But analysts think damage has already been done.
“Officials in Washington must now be seriously worried about the trajectory of U.S.-Philippine relations,” said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.
“Especially military-to-military issues such as joint exercises and U.S. access to Philippine bases, and whether Duterte will try and cut a deal with Beijing over the South China Sea that will allow China to advance its maritime claims.”
But not everyone in China is rushing to embrace Duterte, because of his extreme unpredictability. Last month, despite the new-found bonhomie, the Philippines said at a summit of Asian nations in Laos that it was “gravely concerned” about Chinese boats preparing to build structures at the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
“We have to see what he actually does,” said Luo Liang, a researcher at the Chinese government-backed National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Hainan. “Although the signals from Duterte are good, we still need to wait and see.”
(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Hanoi, Greg Torode in Hong Kong, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Marius Zaharia in Singapore and Yeganeh Torbati in San Diego; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Martin Howell)
Duterte’s pivot to China won’t be easy for Americanized AFP
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to terminate war games between the Philippines and the US, a move that would significantly push his pivot to China, could hurt the capabilities of the Philippine military that has closely worked with the Americans for decades.
Outside the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) conflict, the two militaries cooperate on disaster response and counter-terrorism.
The Philippines and the US also regularly hold two major exercises annually.
The Balikatan war games involve all services (army, navy, and air force) while the amphibious landing exercises (Phiblex) involve only the marines and sailors. Up to 1,400 American troops will be in the Philippines on Sunday, October 2, for the Phiblex 2017 that Duterte said would be the last of the Philippines-US war games under his term.
On top of this, the US allocated this year at least US$40 million (about P2 billion*) in military assistance to the Philippines, which will also receive more hand-me-down assets such as a 3rd warship and at least one more C130 cargo plane.
But Duterte said the country will buy defense assets from China and Russia instead of the US, which has already donated or sold to the the AFP some of its most capable defense assets such as two warships patrolling the West Philippine Sea, armored personnel carrires for the army, and a research vessel (Click here for list of big ticket items from the US).
Years of regular war games have synchronized the tactics, techniques, and procedures to make command posts – generals issuing orders – and the troops of the longtime allies interoperable.
Recent exercises were in fact focused on the maritime conflict, allowing the swift deployment of joint patrols to deter threats of China’s construction in Scarborough Shoal off the coast of the country’s mainland Luzon.
“Perhaps the President may reconsider to allow the holding of non-traditional exercises like humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR), counter-terrorism, and other transnational crimes like drug trafficking under the Security Engagement Board (SEB),” said former Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) executive director and retired Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Eduardo Oban Jr.
Oban said it is important to proceed with these exercises even if war games such as joint patrols and live fire exercises are discontinued. He said training exercises may even include joint efforts against drug trafficking.
The interoperability between the US and the Philippines proved crucial in the aftermath of the November 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda, when American soldiers were among those who took the first C130 cargo flight to Tacloban City to check the extent of damage and determine forms of assistance.
The US deployed 12,000 troops to the Visayas after Yolanda, pulling out of the area only 4 weeks later.
At the height of rescue and relief operations after Yolanda, Americans immediately knew how to send cargo planes for the transport of people and relief goods, while other foreign militaries struggled to coordinate with the overwhelmed Philippine government where and when their own cargo planes can land. (READ: Soldiers of the world deployed for Haiyan victims)
“When Yolanda happened, the first responders were the AFP and the US forces. Together they established a comand post in strategic locations, where they served as the hub of relief and rehabilitation operations,” Oban recalled.
Developing the same interoperability with a new ally “will take time,” said a retired general concerned with the policy shift but who refused to be identified.
China belatedly sent a hospital ship then, following international criticism over its failure to aid a neighbor.
The Americans are also assisting the country’s anti-terrorism drive, training elite troops and sharing intelligence and technology, although this was tainted by the bloody Mamasapano incident in January 2015, an operation that involved American intelligence and the participation of elite Philippine cops.
A Senate probe into Mamasapano later showed that one of the 6 American soldiers who tagged along the ground Filipino police commander had tried to order the military around. “One of the Americans ordered [Army Major General] Pangilinan to fire the artillery. However, Pangilinan refused and told him, ‘Do not dictate to me what to do. I am the commander here!'”revealed the complete draft of the Senate report released on March 17, 2015.
Prior to this, in March 2012, the Philippine military used US smart bombs in an attack against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. Various intelligence reports obtained by Rappler said that the first smart bombs, PGMs or Precision-Guided Munitions kits, arrived in the Philippines on November 1, 2010. Weapons training began the following year, on Jan 24, 2011. (READ: US smart bomb used in Sulu attack)
These forms of involvement reinforce criticism of American presence in the Philippines. (READ: Independent foreign policy: It’s about time)
First left Philippine president
And the critics are led no less than by the commander in chief.
Duterte, a self-declared “first leftist president,” has never hidden his dislike of Americans even before he fumed over the superpower’s criticism of his deadly war on drugs.
When he was mayor of Davao City, Duterte exposed and blocked US plans to use his city as base of its drone operations.
As president, he said he doesn’t want any more joint exercises with US forces. “Hindi natin kaya ang China sabi ko (We are no match to China)— even with the help of America – so we talk…. I am not ready to commit the soldiers of this country just to be massacred,” Duterte said during a recent trip to Vietnam.
The Americans have made informal inquiries to clarify Duterte’s pronouncements, but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza said no action will be taken until the President gives them clear orders. Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr denied the President ever talked about stopping the exercises, claiming Duterte only meant to end joint patrols.
The pronouncements have also raised questions about the President’s plans regarding a new military-to-military agreement, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, that allows Americans to put up facilities and preposition assets inside Philippine military bases and which has been upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court as constitutional.
Yes to China’s preconditions
Jay Batongbacal, who heads the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said Duterte’s pronouncements “signal” that he is “ready to grant China’s pre-conditions for negotiation of a settlement of the West Philippine Sea issues: principally on China’s terms and without the supporting role of the US.” (READ: Sun rises ‘beautifully’ on Philippine ties – China envoy)
Apart from terminating war games, Duterte also seeks to end joint patrols within the country’s exclusive economic zone and limit unliateral patrols to the country’s 12 nautical mile territorial zones.
Former foreigh affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario warned of the economic cost of the foreign policy shift, arguing that the Philipipnes should keep “as many friends as possible.”
It was, ironically, the same criticism hurled by some camps against the Aquino administration, which cut communication lines with China over the West Philippine Sea conflict, negotiated EDCA to rely on the US to defend its maritime territories, and won a historic arbitration case against China.
The Philippine Left, which is talking peace with the government, welcomed the policy shift as a mark of the country’s independent foreign policy.
Kabayan party-list representative Harry Roque, who argued against EDCA before the Supreme Court, said Duterte is “warming up to China because he wants to solve the problem of fishermen in Scarborough.”
“It is important to stress to China, so that we can come to an immediate solution to the problem of our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, that we have a separation of national interests with the US. I’m in favor of elimination these war games,” said Roque.
Indeed, Duterte’s friendliness is credited for the slowdown in China’s buildup in the West Philippine Sea. But it is believed to be temporary.
“No matter what comes of discussions between China and the Philippines, the long-term objective of control of the South China Sea remains,” said a New York Times report quoting Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong.
Time will tell whose approach is right. – Rappler.com
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appeared to liken himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler on Friday and said he would “be happy” to exterminate three million drug users and peddlers in the country.
His comments triggered shock and anger among Jewish groups in the United States, which could add to pressure on the U.S. government to take a tougher line with the Philippines leader.
Duterte recently insulted President Barack Obama and in a number of remarks he has undermined the previously close relationship between Manila and Washington.
In a rambling speech on his arrival in Davao City after a visit to Vietnam, Duterte told reporters that he had been “portrayed to be a cousin of Hitler” by critics.
Noting that Hitler had murdered millions of Jews, Duterte said, “There are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them.
“If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have …,” he said, pausing and pointing to himself.
“You know my victims. I would like (them) to be all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.”
Duterte was voted to power in a May election on the back of a vow to end drugs and corruption in the country of 100 million people. He took office on June 30 and over 3,100 people have been killed since then, mostly alleged drug users and dealers, in police operations and vigilante killings.
His comments were quickly condemned by Jewish groups.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate project, called them “outrageous”.
“Duterte owes the victims (of the Holocaust) an apology for his disgusting rhetoric,” Cooper said.
The Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish group based in the United States, said Duterte’s comments were “shocking for their tone-deafness”.
“The comparison of drug users and dealers to Holocaust victims is inappropriate and deeply offensive,” said Todd Gutnick, the group’s director of communications. “It is baffling why any leader would want to model himself after such a monster.”
While the Obama administration has criticized Duterte over the extra-judicial killings, U.S. officials offered no immediate condemnation of his latest comments and instead stuck to a strategy of stressing long-standing ties with Manila.
“We continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines and will work together in the many areas of mutual interest,” a White House official said when asked about Duterte’s Hitler comments.
Two days before the Philippines election, outgoing President Benigno Aquino had warned that Duterte’s rising popularity was akin to that of Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s.
“I hope we learn the lessons of history,” Aquino said in widely reported remarks. “We should remember how Hitler came to power.”
Duterte has been scathing about criticism of his anti-drugs campaign and has insulted the United Nations and the European Union, as well as Obama, at various times in recent weeks.
On Friday, reacting to critical comments on his war on drugs by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Benjamin Cardin, Duterte said: “Do not pretend to be the moral conscience of the world. Do not be the policeman because you do not have the eligibility to do that in my country.”
He also reiterated there will be no annual war games between the Philippines and the United States until the end of his six-year term, placing the longstanding alliance under a cloud of doubt. It also may make Washington’s strategy of rebalancing its military focus towards Asia in the face of an increasingly assertive China much more difficult to achieve.
Still, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking before the latest remarks from Duterte, said Washington had an “ironclad” alliance with Manila.
A senior U.S. defense official, also speaking earlier, told reporters that the United States had a long enduring relationship with the Philippines regardless of who was president.
Another U.S. defense official pointed to participation by the USS Germantown in an amphibious exercise with the Phiilippines military on Friday as a sign that military ties remained unaffected by Duterte’s latest comments.
Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, said the U.S-Philippines alliance was not necessarily at risk, but Washington could seek to focus on ties elsewhere in the region.
“We are all in some sense becoming, by necessity, desensitized to Duterte’s language,” he said.
“Diplomatically, the U.S. would say they’ll continue to work with him and the alliance is strong. But it’s whether they’ll continue to strengthen that alliance or not.”
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Yeganeh Torbati in San Diego, Marius Zaharia in Singapore, Jeff Mason in Jerusalem and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Toni Reinhold)
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