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.
On 26 September, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald held their first of three debates with each accusing the other and a snap poll indicating that the debate gave Mrs Clinton a boost in her chances to win the White House on 8 November
Mrs Clinton was under pressure to perform well in the wake of her bout with pneumonia and a recent drop in opinion polls. However he days of preparation appeared to have paid off in her highly anticipated first 90-minute standoff with Mr Trump, with a CNN/ORC snap poll stating that 62 percent of respondents felt that Mrs Clinton won the debate while 27 percent believed that Mr Trump was the winner.
While initially, Mr trump was strong early on, as the night wore on he appeared to become repetitive and more undisciplined. During the debate, Mrs Clinton accused Mr Trump of racism, sexism and tax avoidance, effectively putting him on the defensive. She sought to raise questions about her opponent’s temperament, business acumen and knowledge. Mr Trump, who is making his first run for public office, used much of his time to argue that the former first lady, US senator and secretary of state had achieved little in public life and that she wants to pursue policies, which have been started by President Barack Obama but which have failed to repair a shattered middle class. He suggested that her disavowal of a trade agreement with Asian countries was insincere and argued that her handling of a nuclear deal with Iran and the so-called Islamic State were disasters. In one of the more heated exchanges during the evening, Mrs Clinton accused Mr Trump of promulgating a “racist lie” by suggesting that President Obama was not born in the United States. The president, who was born in Hawaii, released a long-form birth certificate in 2011 in a bid to put the issue to rest. Only earlier this month did Mr Trump state publically that he believed the president was US-born. In a bid to get a reaction out of Mr Trump, Mrs Clinton suggested that he was refusing to release his tax returns to avoid showing Americans that he either paid next to nothing in federal taxes or that he is not as wealthy as he says he is. Mr Trump replied by saying that as a businessman, paying low taxes was important, adding, “that makes me smart.” He later stated, “I have tremendous income,” adding that it was about time that someone running the country knew something about money. Where Mrs Clinton seemed to pique Mr Trump’s ire was when she brought up his past insults about women, stating, “he loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them and he called this one ‘Miss Piggy’ and then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping.’” During the debate, Mr Trump hinted at wanting to say something but stopped short. Afterwards, he told reporters tat he had though off raising the sex scandal involving Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, who was in the audience with their daughter Chelsea. He stated, “I was going to say something extremely tough to Hillary and her family and I said I can’t do it. I just can do it. Is inappropriate, its not nice.”
After a week of shocking statements made by Republican candidate Donald Trump, new divisions have emerged within the United States Republican Party over its presidential candidate.
In the latest controversy to hit the Republican Party, Mr Trump has refused to support two senior figures within his own party. When asked in an interview for the Washington Post whether he would endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain, who are both up for re-election in November, Mr Trump replied that he was “just not quite there yet.” Both men publicly criticized him.
In recent days, Mr Trump has come under fire for criticizing the parents of a US Muslim soldier who was killed in Iraq. Speaking at the Democratic National Convention at the end of July, the soldier’s father, Khazr Khan, lambasted Mr Trump over his plan to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US. Mr Trump responded by attacking the couple. Both Democratic and Republican leaders, as well as veterans’ group, were quick to criticise Mr Trump, with the incident leading US President Barack Obama to make his strongest comments yet on Mr Trump. On 2 August, President Obama stated that “the Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president and he keeps on proving it,” adding, “the notion that he would attack a Gold Star family that made such extraordinary sacrifices, means that he is woefully unprepared to do this job.” In response, Mr Trump dismissed President Obama’s time in the White House, calling it a “disaster,” and stating in a Fox News interview that “he’s been weak, he’s been ineffective…the worst president, maybe, in the history of our country.”
Mr Trump’s campaign has been marked by a series of controversial statements, which appear to be creating further divides within his own party. On 1 August, New York Representative Richard Hanna became the first Republican member of Congress to publicly say that he would vote for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. On Monday, Sally Bradshaw, a top adviser to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, disclosed that Mr Trump’s candidacy had convinced her to leave the Republican Party. Just days later, Republican donor Meg Whitman also announced that she has endorsed his Mrs Clinton, stating that Mr Trump’s “demagoguery” had undermined the national fabric. Writing on Facebook, Ms Whitman stated that to vote Republican out of party loyalty alone “would be to endorse a candidacy that I believe has exploited anger, grievance, xenophobia and racial division,” adding that “Trump’s unsteady hand would endanger our prosperity and national security. His authoritarian character could threaten much more.” Meanwhile senior party activist Jan Halper-Hayes has told the BBC that she though Mr Trump was “psychologically unbalanced.” Dr Halper-Hayes, vice president of Republicans Overseas Worldwide, told the BBC’s Today Programme that she was “very concerned” about Mr Trump’s behaviour, however she did not go so far as to endorse Mrs Clinton. She further stated, “I think there is an element of him that truly is psychologically unbalanced, and I feel very guilty for saying this because I’m a Republican and I want the Republican ticket to win…But Donald is out of control right now and he’s not listening to anyone.” Dozens of senior Republican party figures have already stated that they will not vote for Mr Trump. They include the party’s’ 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
In recent weeks, Mrs Clinton has been actively courting moderate Republicans. Furthermore the latest Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll suggests that she has extended her lead over Mr Trump to eight percentage points, from six points in the previous poll.
List of Republicans Not Voting for Mr Trump
- Barbara Bush, former first lady
- Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, 2016 presidential candidate
- William Cohen, former secretary of defense
- Jeff Flake, Arizona senator
- Lindsey Graham, South Carolina senator, 2016 presidential candidate
- Larry Hogan, Maryland governor
- John Kasich, Ohio governor, 2016 presidential candidate
- Mark Kirk, Illinois senator
- Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, 2012 Republican presidential nominee
- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Congresswoman
- Ben Sasse, Nebraska senator
List of Republicans Voting for Mrs Clinton
- Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state
- Hank Paulson, former treasury secretary
- Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser
- Richard Hanna, New York Congressman
- Meg Whitman, party donor and fundraiser
On 18 May, the office of the US National Intelligence Director James Clapper disclosed that US Presidential campaigns and related organizations have been targeted by hackers. His office however did not provide details on specific intrusions.
In a statement, Mr Clapper’s spokesman, Brain Hale, disclosed that “we’re aware that campaigns and related organizations and individuals are targeted by actors with a variety of motivations – from philosophical differences to espionage – and capabilities – from defacements to intrusions.” He deferred to the FBI for details on specific incidents. Earlier, Clapper had disclosed that the US intelligence community had “already had some indications” of hacking attempts against presidential candidates. At a morning event at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington, Clapper stated that “as the campaign intensifies we’ll probably have more” attacks.
The last two US presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 witnesses a barrage of cyber attacks from a range of adversaries targeting President Barack Obama’s campaign and the campaigns of his Republican rivals. US intelligence officials have disclosed that many of the previous assaults were linked to Chinese hackers.
Lift of the embargo and the impact on Vietnam’s weaponry
After decades of ban, the U.S President Obama lifted the embargo on sales of weapons during his visit to Vietnam in May 2016. The decade-long embargo was on sales of weapons to Vietnam and was already partially lifted in 2014. Today, the U.S decided to fully lift this embargo.
The lift of the embargo is unlikely to affect immediately the acquirement of weapons by Vietnam, mostly because the government would not rush to acquire only American weapons but might use the lift as way to diversify its sources. Indeed, even though the embargo is lifted, the Vietnam might not be ready yet to use weapons as sophisticated and expensive as the American’s ones. In the past decade, the Vietnam defence’s spending has doubled but it is not proven that Vietnam will rush into the American technology. The greatest potential for US sales probably lies in areas like military surveillance systems and coastal defence. Vietnam would welcome technology that helps it track Chinese naval forces. The partial lifting of the embargo two years ago was with the specific aim of improving U.S’ sales in this area. Hence, Vietnam, currently relying mostly on Russian’s defence equipment, is likely to diversify its equipment’s sources but without focusing on the U.S.
The context of South China Sea’s tensions and the U.S policy towards China’s influence
This decision occurs in a time of tension in the South China Sea where the regional States have disputes of territorial claims over several island of the Sea for economic and politic purposes. China is one of the biggest claimers (80% of the claims) and numerous incidents occured in the past few years, including some between Vietnam and the Chinese Republic. For example in 2014, a dispute over a oil rig near the Paracel islands led to clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels along with anti-China riots in Vietnam.
Within these disputes and this tension, the U.S defends the freedom of navigation in this area and has tried to bolster its relations with the other countries involved in the dispute, such as Vietnam or the Philippines. Even though the President Obama affirmed that this decision is not related to the American policy within the region, this lift of the embargo would allow the U.S to strengthen the Vietnamese army, which is currently weaker than China. The Chinese Republic expressed concerns about this lift as the China’s privately-owned portal Sina News said that the lifting of the arms embargo “is a cause for concern” because it may have an impact on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Moreover, the lift of the sanction is also a mean for the U.S to bolster and strengthen its relation with Vietnam, both economically and politically. Indeed, Vietnam is also a key partner for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP has currently 12 members including Vietnam but excluding China and aims at facilitating global trade, especially for Made-in America exports. This US-led trade deal is seen as a counter to China’s growing influence, a policy where Vietnam plays an important role for the U.S.
The condition for selling: respect of the human rights
During his announcement of the lift, President Obama assured that the arms ban would be lifted only if human rights in Vietnam improved. He was pushed by Activist groups who called for him to require a greater respect of human rights in Vietnam. Indeed, as Human Right Watch describes: “Basic rights, including freedom of speech, opinion, press, association, and religion, are restricted. Rights activists and bloggers face harassment, intimidation, physical assault, and imprisonment.” The juridical system based arrests on the Article 258 (abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens) of the 1999 Penal Code. Vietnam has about 100 political prisoners and seven activists were sentenced in March for spreading anti-state propaganda. And during May 2016, a BBC reporting team has seen its accreditation revoked and was not allowed to cover Obama’s visit.
This condition of respecting human rights before any selling could make the access to weapons more difficult. Indeed, the U.S President assured that any military contracts would still be subject to provisos on human rights. This condition might be difficult to respect for the Vietnamese government as explained above. Given the Vietnamese government’s poor human rights record, it might hold up possible arms sales in Congress.
Hence, the lift of the embargo on sales of weapons to Vietnam might not bring immediate changes neither for the Vietnamese doctrine warfare nor for its equipment. Russia is likely to remain the first partner of Vietnam on the defence area even though the lift could allow Vietnam to diversify the sources of its weapons. Moreover, this decision of lifting the embargo is to analyse within the regional context of tensions and the U.S policy of countering China’s growing influence.