Australia-Philippines Relationship Status: “It’s Complicated”


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Number 364 | December 14, 2016

ANALYSIS

Australia-Philippines Relationship Status: “It’s Complicated”

by Charmaine Deogracias and Orrie Johan

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The Philippines and Australia fought side by side in the 1944-1945 campaign that liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation. After the war, both countries forged alliances with the United States, as Australia and an independent Philippines became increasingly friendly. Today, with their overlapping and proliferating security partnerships, Australia and the Philippines have built on seven decades of bilateral ties to become comprehensive partners.

The two countries share an interest in the continued security and stability of the region and in freedom of navigation of the seas. The rising strength of China also looms large in the security calculus of each country. Both are trying to navigate the vast economic benefits and security concerns that China’s rise presents in the region, and this focus has brought the two countries much closer together. A major difference between the two is that the Philippines has a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea while Australia does not.  This means that for a time Australia was more worried than the Philippines about being entrapped into a war against China. Now that friendly relations between China and the Philippines have been restored under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to rely on China economically, there is greater convergence with Australian interests in avoiding conflict with China. But Philippines-Australia relations are now being undermined by the new Philippine government’s allergic reaction to human rights and resulting criticisms by Australian and U.S. governments. Relations are also affected by Duterte’s skepticism of Australian and U.S. resolve in supporting the Philippines, and by Australia’s concerns about a shift by Duterte away from the U.S. and towards China. These trends pose major challenges for Philippines-Australia relations and risk causing them to deteriorate.

Australia’s Cautious Bilateralism

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Australia has chosen to respond to the risk of increased regional instability by pursuing closer ties with many of its neighbors in the region, including with the Philippines. Until recently, Australia relied on its close alliance with the U.S. for its security and did not pursue strong security relationships with many other countries in the region. China’s growing challenge to U.S. predominance in the Asia-Pacific has led Australia to shift its approach by bolstering its ties with other regional powers, such as Japan and India.

This trend was strongly encouraged by the U.S., which under the Obama administration has advocated a similar approach to others throughout the region to help develop an Asia-Pacific Principled Security Network and boost regional stability. However, this approach has also become more attractive for Australia because of concerns that the U.S. could reduce its regional presence or even surrender its regional leadership role in the long-term, given growing opposition to international engagement within the United States. In such a scenario, strong Australian ties with other countries in the region could provide additional leverage in future interactions with China.

Among these bilateral partnerships, Australia’s relationship with the Philippines has been one of its fastest growing. Bilateral security cooperation began in earnest in 2005 when the Australian government expressed interest in assisting the Philippines with counterterrorism challenges. The relationship has since deepened to include a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), which went into force in 2012.

Australia now conducts joint military drills with the Philippines, and has participated in the annual Philippines-U.S. Balikatan exercises since 2014. Australia has also supported the Philippines’ right to pursue an international arbitration tribunal’s judgement on its disputes with China in the South China Sea, over Chinese objections. However, despite these major bilateral advances, there have been signs that Australia is less willing than the Philippines to consolidate strong ties. Australia chose to sign a comprehensive partnership with the Philippines rather than the stronger strategic partnership that the Philippines sought, even as it chose to ink such an agreement with Singapore.

The reason for this appears to be that Australia has historically avoided escalating tensions in the region and chosen to refrain from pursuing a strategic partnership or alliance with the Philippines due to concerns that such an action could undermine stability in the South China Sea or force Australia into a conflict with China.

The Philippines’ Pivot to China 

Given the foreign policy shifts that Duterte is seeking, Australia’s calibrated form of security engagement with the Philippines is the kind that Duterte favors for now. His independent foreign policy is shaping up to have Russia as an ally, China as an economic partner, and have Japan compete with China to provide economic benefits and regional security for the Philippines.

Duterte would prefer to keep the status quo with the US alliance and the Australian comprehensive partnership, but their criticisms of his controversial anti-drug campaign will complicate this. Australia and the U.S. have provided a great deal of support to the Philippine military but Duterte has questioned Australian and U.S. resolve against China. He also criticized the US and Australia for meddling in Filipino affairs by condemning his anti-drug campaign that has so far resulted in over 3,000 extra-judicial killings. But his anti-U.S. sentiments are more deep-seated for personal and ideological reasons.

Changing the rhetoric on the South China Sea issue post-arbitration ruling, Duterte has chosen to take a more conciliatory approach in resolving territorial disputes with China and is poised to settle the contentious issue of sovereignty bilaterally. He has not sought a complete overhaul of his predecessor’s policies, as he expressed willingness to maintain close ties with Japan, which has become concerned at Duterte’s talk of radical shifts by the Philippines towards China. He is open to joint military exercises with Japan, but has redirected the focus of bilateral drills with U.S. armed forces from maritime security to humanitarian assistance and counterterrorism, and scrapped naval drills such as amphibious landings and boat raids altogether.

Duterte has not yet spoken of abandoning Australia or reducing the already low scale military exercises with it the way he has about the United States. But the fact is that Australia’s criticisms of Duterte’s extra-judicial domestic policies and controversial comments have put Australia on Duterte’s watch list alongside the European Union and the United Nations. It appears that under Duterte, Australian ambivalence towards stronger ties with the Philippines is beginning to be reciprocated.

Until recently, the main factor complicating Australia-Philippines relations was a divergence in attitudes to the risk of conflict against China. While that is no longer the case, differences over the Duterte administration’s policy approaches are now the primary obstacle to strengthening Australia-Philippines ties. These concerns will prevent the bilateral relationship from improving and may even undermine it in the future.

About the Authors

Charmaine Deogracias is  a journalist writing for Vera Files in the Philippines. She can be reached at charmdeogracias@gmail.com.

Orrie Johan is a researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He recently obtained a master’s degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University. He can be contacted at orrie.johan@gmail.com

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery


November 27, 2016

The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery on the Malaysian Economy

by Koon Yew Yin

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

 

I can see clearly that there are various push and pull forces at work in our economy. Some of these forces are linked to political ones which economists attached to banks or universities do not want to talk about publicly. But they are happy to do so privately or in coffee shops with their good friends.

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Other forces are more obvious but it is still useful to emphasise them in case they are easily forgotten.

Let me flag some of these which will be of special concern to investors in the market.Firstly, there is of course the “Trump effect”.

Readers will recall that I had predicted – contrary to many analysts – that the US stock market would head higher post-Trump. Well, for now, my prediction has proven to be correct.

One of the world’s foremost business newspapers, The Financial Times, in a lead article on November 26 noted that when Wall Street traders departed for Thanksgiving, they could celebrate a rare achievement. On Monday and Tuesday, the four most widely cited indices of US stocks — the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq Composite and the Russell 2000 —hit all-time highs simultaneously. The last time a “grand slam” took place was on New Year’s Eve 1999, at the height of the tech bubble.

The article noted the breakthrough for stocks in the US which had moved sideways for two years since the Federal Reserve stopped its quantitative easing programme, seemed to confirm a regime change. Prompted by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the narrative has changed to preparing for an era of tax cuts, deregulation and fiscal stimulus, after eight years of markets being guided by the Fed’s historically low interest rates.

I also predicted in my article “Trump is better for business than Hillary, that the Malaysian stock market and other Asian markets will also strengthen as a result of the US economic recovery.”

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The UMNO Redshirt Buffoons

Specifically I had written: “History has shown that when the Dow goes up, almost all the stock markets in the world, including KLCI, go up.”

 Well, the second part of my prediction has still to happen.On November 10 when my article was published, the KLCI stood at 1652.74. At the close of November 25, it stood at 1627.26 – a drop of 25 points.

Of course it is much too early to say what will happen next but my prediction that our market will move in tandem with the US market – that is upwards during the next 12-18 months still stands.

There are two big dark clouds hanging over the market. One is the big black hole left by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which most analysts are aware of but are too afraid to talk or write about openly for fear of being branded as anti-national or taken under Sosma and put into solitary confinement.

I will not go into the size of the 1MDB financial hole but will leave it to our accounting experts to do the mathematics. My main concern is not so much the actual financial loss incurred by the government.

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CIC of the Red Shirt Buffoons

Although this will go down in history as one of the biggest scandals carried out on a nation’s financial guardians and gatekeepers, frankly the actual financial loss is really not that big and it is one which the nation’s treasury can well afford.

What we cannot afford is the loss of confidence among foreign and local investors which cannot be easily quantified. Should this lack of confidence continue, then my predicted Malaysian market upturn will be undermined.

There is a second dark cloud – and this is the Red Shirts phenomenon. We have now seen the Red Shirts political ‘mat rempits’ come to centre stage in our political life. I am not only referring to Jamal Yunos but also his supporters and leaders who are now engaging in the use of force, threats of violence and other provocative actions in Parliament, Komtar and elsewhere and aimed at whoever they see as opposed to their vision of party, racial and religious dominance.

Everyone who has access to a smartphone will have seen the behaviour of these street and parliamentary hooligans and how they are destroying the peace and harmony of the country. Well, perhaps not everyone. It seems like the country’s leaders including the Prime Minister, the entire Barisan Nasional cabinet, the Inspector-General of Police, the Attorney-General and others responsible for law and order in this country have not seen these videos.

Or if they have viewed them, they do not care.

Let me be very blunt. The business community and investors in the country – foreign and local – do not read Utusan Malaysia or any of the Malay papers. They do not listen to Radio Malaysia or view TV3.

They care about how their money and the market is affected by these thugs and hooligans. They can make up their own mind on which way our national politics is going.

And if the Red Shirts phenomenon gets worse, we can expect some of them to take out their businesses and money.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

 

The Horrors of the War in Syria– Failure of Diplomacy


August 18, 2016

The Horrors of the War in Syria–Failure of Diplomacy

by Elle Hunt

http://www.theguardian.com

A photograph of a boy sitting dazed and bloodied in the back of an ambulance after surviving a regime airstrike in Aleppo has highlighted the desperation of the Syrian civil war and the struggle for control of the city. The child has been identified as five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, who was injured late on Wednesday in a military strike on the rebel-held Qaterji neighbourhood.

The startling image shows him covered head to toe with dust and so disoriented that he seems barely aware of an open wound on his forehead. He was taken to a hospital known as M10 and later discharged.

The image is a still from a video filmed and circulated by the Aleppo Media Centre. The anti-government activist group has been contacted to confirm details about when and where the footage was shot. The group posted the clip to YouTube late on Wednesday, shortly after Omran was injured.

The fight for control of Aleppo has intensified in recent weeks following gains made by rebel groups battling the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The fighting has frustrated the UN’s efforts to fulfil its humanitarian mandate, and the world body’s special envoy to Syria on Thursday cut short a meeting of the ad hoc committee chaired by Russia and the United States tasked with deescalating the violence so that relief can reach beleaguered civilians.

The UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, said there was “no sense” in holding the meeting in light of the obstacles to delivering aid. The UN is hoping to secure a 48-hour pause in the fighting in Aleppo.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/18/boy-in-the-ambulance-image-emerges-syrian-child-aleppo-rubble?CMP=soc_567

Malaysia: We have lost our core values


November 25, 2015

We have lost our core values based on respect, care and compassion, says FA Abdul. Cash is King under Najib’s Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua Philosophy

by fa Abdul

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Family ties, brotherhood, friendship and a common sense of respect and understanding are becoming such a rarity in our society. Everyone is talking about togetherness and a sense of belonging but fewer and fewer people are practising it.-fa abdul

Respect for the Old

Everyone is talking about togetherness and a sense of belonging but fewer and fewer people are practising it.

When I was a little girl, there was a man who lived opposite our place. He was as old as my grandpa so I referred to him as ‘Tok’. Tok never talked much to anyone. He was always busy.

Every morning, he would ride his old bicycle to the marketplace where he sold Indian spices or ‘masala’ as we knew it. At noon, he returned home for a quick shower, lunch and prayers before returning to work. Later in the afternoon, he would get groceries on his way back home. This was his routine every day.

Tok had seven children – four boys and three girls. They were all grown ups and had their own families, yet they always stayed over at Tok’s house. Most of the time Tok and his wife took care of their grandchildren while their own parents, i.e. Tok’s children, were away working.

As I grew older, so did Tok. His forehead became wider and his hair became whiter – even the ones on his chest. I remember sitting by the street in front of my house, enjoying some cream crackers soaked into a cup of hot ginger tea, watching him cycle home. Over the years, his paddling became slower and slower.

Tok’s family grew bigger in size as the years passed. He had more grandchildren and in-laws. And their small house became more and more crowded with people and filled with much more laughter. I used to envy them because there was so much more going on in their house compared to my quiet home.

When I moved out came to the city some fifteen years ago, my mom kept me updated about Tok and his family. From time to time she would tell me how they were doing. I learned that his wife had become ill, most of his children had moved out and his health had deteriorated.

A few years ago, Tok’s wife passed away at the age of 85. Tok was devastated. After spending all his life with the woman he loved, he was now alone although he still had his children and family. At the age of almost 90, he was forced to stop working. He had to stay home.

There were a few times when Tok took his old bicycle and disappeared. According to mom, whenever this happened the entire family would embark on a search mission to find him. Once, after searching all night for him, they finally found him a few kilometres away from where his masala shop used to be, laying by the roadside, shivering. He had gotten lost and couldn’t find his way home.

That was when the entire family decided that it was in his best interest that he moved in with one of them. They did not think he could be left alone in his old house. But the question was, who would take care of him? Apparently, it wasn’t easy for seven children to take care of one ailing father. Thus, Tok was sent to a home for the elderly.

The last time mom and I spoke about Tok, she told me that Tok had celebrated Hari Raya with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mom who visited him said he looked happy and at peace until it was time to return to the home for the elderly, Tok cried and hugged a pillar of the house. He refused to let go.

Just a while ago, I received a text message from mom – Tok has passed away. He closed his eyes at the home for the elderly, surrounded by strangers, far from those he loved his entire life.

I realise this column is usually used as a platform to talk about politics, current issues and matters of our country, however, I decided to write something different today as I feel that our society desperately needs to get re-connected with its lost soul.

Every day we indulge in talk about corruption, racism and bigotry. We criticise those whom we feel are contributing to the illness that is creeping under our skins. Yet we ignore the fact that our values as a society are deteriorating by the day.

Family ties, brotherhood, friendship and a common sense of respect and understanding are becoming such a rarity in our society. Everyone is talking about togetherness and a sense of belonging but fewer and fewer people are practising it.

Perhaps Tok is in a better place now…Al-Fatihah. May you rest in peace, Tok.

 

Dr. Farish Noor on Bangladesh and Myanmar


June 16, 2015

Dr. Farish Noor on  Bangladesh and Myanmar and the Rohingyas: A Bit of History

farish-a-noorListen to Rajaratnam School of International Studies @NTU Scholar Dr. Farish Noor tell  the story of Bangladesh and Myanmar and the Rohingyas, the Stateless People. I have always admired my dear friend Dr. Farish for his efforts in promoting inter-faith dialogue, tolerance,  mutual understanding, peace and cooperation in our region, ASEAN.

Like this respected academic and dedicated public intellectual, I too cannot understand why a people who have lived in Rakhine for centuries are today victims of racial and religious discrimination, and ethnic cleansing and are being denied their right to citizenship in their own homeland.

Understanding History can help us all to deal with our current problems. That is probably an understatement. Thank you, Dr Phua for bringing this to my attention.–Din Merican