On 21 November, US President-elect Donald Trump outlined his plans for his first day in office, including withdrawing from a major trade accord and investigating abuses of work visa programmes. Also on Monday, he met with Cabinet hopefuls at his Manhattan office tower.
Mr Trump met with Oklahoma Governor May Fallin, Democratic US Representative Tulsi Gabbard and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, however he announced no further appointments, in a move that will keep candidates and the public guessing about the shape of the administration, which will take office on 20 January 2017. Fallin, Gabbard and Perry are just the latest of dozens of officials who have travelled to New York for talks with the Republican president-elect in a relatively open, and unconventional, transition process since his election victory on 8 November. Mr Trump has so far picked two Cabinet members and three top White House advisers, with his aides stating that he was not expected to make further announcements on Monday.
While Mr Trump has not yet held a news conference since getting elected, on Monday evening he issued a video outlining some of his plans for his first day in office, including formally declaring his intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacifi Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which he called “a potential disaster for our country.” The 12-nation TPP is Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature trade initiative and was signed by the United States earlier this year, however it has not been ratified by he US Senate. Mr Trump has disclosed that he would replace the accord with bilaterally negotiated trade deals that would “bring jobs and industry back onto American shores.” He went on to say “my agenda will be based on a simple core principle: putting America first. Whether its producing steel, building cars or curing disease, I want the next generation of production and innovation to happen right here on our great homeland, America, creating wealth and jobs for American workers.” There are however growing concerns for the future of the TPP agreement, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe statin on Monday that TPP “would be meaningless without the United States.”
Mr Trump also indicated on Monday that he would cancel some restrictions on producing energy in the United States on his first day in office, particularly shale oil and “clean coal,” which he said would create “many millions of high-paying jobs.”
While eliminating regulations and withdrawing from the TPP were central to Mr Trump’s campaign, he sent mixed messages about his views on visa programmes, including the main H-1B visa for high-tech industry workers. On Monday, he promised to direct the Labour Department to investigate abuses of visa programmes for immigrant works. The main US visa programme for technology workers could face tough scrutiny under the new president. Furthermore, Mr Trump’s proposed attorney general, US Senator Jeff Sessions, has been a longtime critic of the programme.
The US presidential elections are already swinging the pendulum for Latin America in significant ways. The fear that the US will now revert to protectionism lead to a major sell off across different asset classes. The Mexican Peso tumbled to 20-years lows and has hardly recovered as of yet, pulling down the entire region. After an initial quick fall the Dollar bounced hard and is currently trading at multi-month highs. This has exacerbated the devaluation of Latin American currencies, which are traded against the Dollar.
Apart from the financial fallout, geopolitical consequences of Trump’s future policies have appeared as well. Now that Trump has confirmed he will not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, potential members like Chili, Peru, Mexico and Colombia will likely beef up their bilateral economic relations in order to compensate for TPP. Peru already stated to foresee bilateral negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. Argentina, very open to free trade, will receive $4.1 billion in investments from Canada. This is about half the amount expected from US companies through 2019. A more protectionist approach by Trump could bring that amount down and leave the door open for Canadian companies to fill the gap. Withdrawal from NAFTA could exacerbate this and will constitute extra incentive for Latin American countries to strengthen bilateral relations with other geopolitical powers. Peru, which has strong historic ties with China, already trades more with China than with the US, a development that could potentially spill over to increased security and military cooperation. President Kuczynski’s pull to China is very clear: “We hope to tap into new markets in China, especially for agriculture. We are also interested in cooperation on science and technology. Furthermore, cultural exchanges and cooperation in archaeology and climate change are also very important for us.” It remains the question whether the US will look on from the sidelines if Russia and China increase their influence in Latin America.
Interregional relations are likely to strengthen as well, given Trump’s veiled threats to Central American countries on the topic of immigration. Whether the US will build a wall or will significantly increase deportations of immigrants, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have said to form a bloc with Mexico to deal with the US under Trump leadership. However, with regards to Mexico, it is likely that organized-crime competition will increase, as a result of traffic restrictions and stricter border controls. In this scenario, conflict over control over the remaining open crossings would lead to increased violence. Violence in border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana is already on the rise. The second security consequence for Mexico stems from the influx of deportees, who would have few employment opportunities in Mexico. They could provide a ready pool of labour for criminal organizations. Central American cooperation is said to increase collaboration on jobs, investments and migration.
It remains to be seen as to which direction the pendulum will eventually swing, however, for the moment significant financial, economic and security consequences are already visible in Latin America.
A report released on 16 November indicated that deaths from terrorism in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries decreased last year by 650 percent despite a marked fall globally as Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants and the so-called Islamic State (IS) Group suffered military defeats at home but carried out more attacks abroad.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has reported that worldwide, there were 29,376 deaths that were caused by terrorism in 2015. This figure represents a decline of 10 percent, adding that this is the first decrease in four years. GTI disclosed that his decline was due to action against IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria, which cut the numbers killed there by a third. IS was the deadliest group in 2015, overtaking Boko Haram. Last year, IS carried out attacks in 252 cities that led to 6,141 deaths. The index however has noted that Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger – saw the number of fatalities in the se countries increase by 157 percent.
The report however notes that the groups have spread their actions to neighbouring states and regions, where they have caused a huge increase in fatalities amongst OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries, such as the United States and European countries. According to GTI, of the 34 OECD member countries, 21 had witnesses at least one attack with most deaths occurred in Turkey and France. Last year’s terror incidents included coordinated attacks carried out by IS gunmen and suicide bombers at the Bataclan music venue, a soccer stadium and several cafes in Paris in November, which killed 130 people. The index also noted that Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey all suffered their worst death tolls from terrorism in a single year since 2000, adding that in total twenty-three countries registered their highest ever number of terrorism deaths. Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which accounted for 72 percent of all deaths, were the top five ranked countries in the GTI. The United States ranked 36th, with France coming in 29th, Russia in 30th and the United Kingdom in 34th.
According to Steve Killelea, executive chairman at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank, “while on the one hand the reduction in deaths is positive, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries and its spread to new ones is a cause for serious concern and underscores the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity,” adding that “the attacks in the heartland of western democracies underscore the need for fast-paced and tailored responses to the evolution of these organizations.”
So much for Duterte’s political correctness and what it means for the US-Philippines relationship
So much for political correctness when the Philippine’s president Rodrigo Duterte branded the former U.S. President Barrack Obama with profanity in September 2016. This has canceled his planned meeting with Obama in Laos where he expected to be challenged on human rights issues. What Duterte has finally gained though was not having to confront that topic.
Duterte’s congratulatory note to President Elect Donald Trump seems to indicate an attempt to re-improve the U.S.-Philippines relationship since his spree of anti-American rhetoric in the past few months. Following the U.S. election result, Duterte also said, “The United States presidential election is a testament to the enduring traditions of its democratic system and the American way of life. The two-party system gives American voters freedom of choice based on party platforms, not just on personalities.” Caution, however, prevails on the continuity of this new attitude toward the U.S. administration, particularly when his past statements toward the U.S. have been very confusing.
Duterte has very recently cancelled an order of some 26,000 police assault rifles from the U.S. after rumors that Washington stopped the sale. According to Reuters, a U.S. senator had planned to block the arms purchase over concerns about human rights violations. This may not be as surprising because Duterte did promise during his election campaign that he would kill the alleged drug dealers and drug users in the Philippines and there has been more than 3000 killings already since his presidency in June 2016.
Duterte’s earlier comment about separation from the U.S. has also been troubling Washington because the U.S. has been the Philippine’s strongest ally. Since Duterte’s visit to Beijing in October 2016 to sign a deal worth $13.5 billion and possibly to diminish the resentment over the Philippine’s territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, it becomes somewhat apparent that the Philippine’s president is looking to China to replace the U.S. as a major ally for the Philippines. Daniel Russel, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, however, suggested, “it would be a mistake to think that improved relationship between Manila and Beijing should come at the expense of the United States”.
It is critical to understand the relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. that has institutionalized over the years before an attempt to speculate on how this relationship could transform with Duterte’s ongoing anti-U.S. rampage.
- The U.S. is the largest investor in the Philippines with a direct investment over $4.7 billion and the country’s third largest trading partner;
- The U.S. has provided to date over $143 million in assistance to the Philippines in relief and recovery funds to battle natural disasters;
- The U.S. has granted the Philippines preferential duty free access to the U.S. market which also makes the Philippines among the largest beneficiaries of the Generalized System of Preference (GSP) program;
- The U.S. has designated the Philippines as a major Non-NATO ally;
- The 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty offers a security partnership between the two countries;
- An estimated 4 million U.S. citizens of Philippine ancestry live in the U.S.;
- Over 220,000 U.S. citizens live in the Philippines;
- An estimated 650,000 U.S. citizens visit the Philippines each year;
Clearly, Duterte’s diplomatic and political demeanor worries and confuses U.S. officials. A U.S.-Philippines joint military exercise due in October 2016 have been postponed to late November 2016 after Duterte suggested earlier that the joint exercise with the U.S. would be the last of such partnership.
On the human rights matters, Washington could decide to cut military aid to the Philippines or make it subject to careful judicial procedures. Consequences could also manifest into discontinuation of GSP privilege. Manila, however, has suggested that the Philippines could sustain without U.S. assistance, particularly when the Philippine’s latest approach toward China indicates that the country may seek assistance elsewhere.
It’s too early to say that Trump’s victory will mean a continuity of the current U.S. foreign policy toward the Philippines, however, potential U.S. repercussions will not be a surprise should Duterte’s actions toward the U.S.-Philippines partnership escalate for the worse.
In October, Ecuador acknowledged that it partly restricted Internet access for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is taking refuge at its London embassy. Ecuador has disclosed that Mr Assange had in recent weeks released material that could have an impact on the presidential election in the United States, which will take place on 8 November.
In a statement, the Ecuadorean foreign ministry disclosed that WikiLeaks’ decision to publish documents could have an impact on the US presidential election adding that the release was entirely the responsibility of the organization, and that Ecuador did not want to interfere in the electoral process. The statement went on to say “in that respect, Ecuador, exercising its sovereign right, has temporarily restricted access to part of its communications systems in the UK Embassy,” adding that “Ecuador does not yield to pressure from other countries.” WikiLeaks had earlier stated that Ecuador had cut off Mr Assange’s Internet access on the evening of 15 October. The US has denied WikiLeaks accusations that it had asked Ecuador to stop the site from publishing documents relating to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
WikiLeaks has recently been releasing material from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including those from a hack of Mrs Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. On 15 October, the site released transcripts of paid speeches that Mrs Clinton made to the US investment bank Goldman Sachs in the past, which her campaign had long refused to release. According to the latest leaked emails, Mrs Clinton told a Goldman Sachs conference that she would like to intervene secretly in Syria. She made the remark in answer to a question from Lloyd Blankfein, the bank’s chief executive, in 2013, just months after she left office as secretary of state. She also told employees of a bank in South Carolina, which had paid here about US $225,000 to give a speech, that “my view was you intervene as covertly as is possible for Americans to intervene,” adding,” we used to be much better at this than we are now. Now, you know, everybody can’t help themselves…They have to go out and tell their friendly reporters and somebody else: Look what we’re doing and I want credit for it.” The scripts revealed bantering exchanges with bank executives, which sources say may increase concerns among liberal Democrats that she is too cosy with Wall Street. The Democratic White House candidate’s camp has claimed that the cyber-breach was carried out by Russian hackers with the aim of undermining the US democratic process. Furthermore, while Mrs Clinton’s team has neither confirmed nor denied the leaked emails are authentic, there have been no indications that they are fake.
Transparency activist Julian Assange has sought asylum at London’s Ecuadorean embassy since 2012 in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex assault allegations.