Duterte as ASEAN Chair in 2017


November 20, 2017

Duterte as ASEAN Chair in 2017

by  Purple Romero

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/rodrigo-duterte-as-asean-leader/

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President Rodrigo Duterte, who took over the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations a year ago, is responsible for a decision to mute controversy over ownership of the South China Sea that has drastically changed ASEAN’s role in the resolution of the longstanding territorial dispute between its claimant-states and China.

Duterte’s year-long leadership of the 10-member pact was hardly a watershed. Overall, the Philippines did put ASEAN towards a more productive path on some points by steering clear of the more contentious issues of addressing human rights issues or giving claimant states much-needed regional support in their territorial conflict with China.

“Given ASEAN’s constraints and limitations, its modus operandi and increasing workload of consultations and discussions, it is difficult to see what else it [the Philippines] could have done within the one-year chairmanship that could make ASEAN more progressive and more productive,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

 “It was enough for [the Philippines] to have been able to competently chair and host the meetings without potential serious controversies (particularly regarding the South China Sea and the Rohingya) paralyzing its processes.”

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On the issue of the South China Sea and China’s claim to virtually all of it via its so-called Nine-Dash Line, the events of the last year draw a clear contrast to previous actions. Two decades ago, the Philippines had to ask for the help of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over China’s reported military installations in Mischief reef, an atoll claimed by both Manila and Beijing.

ASEAN came to the rescue with a joint communique calling for a code of conduct in 1996, designed to set restrictions on the construction of buildings and military activity in the sea, which was being claimed by ASEAN members Malaysia and Brunei. Vietnam, another claimant, joined ASEAN later.

Fast forward to 2017. ASEAN, under Duterte’s chairmanship, and China has endorsed a framework for the code of conduct. It was Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi – and not ASEAN – which announced the adoption of the framework at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in August.

Wang said both parties would discuss “the principles, and plan for the next stage of consultation of the COC” and build a “consensus.”

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ASEAN and China now have announced their commitment to negotiate, saying it “is important that we cooperate to maintain peace.” After 21 years since ASEAN first raised the need for a code of conduct, the negotiations will start next year.

It won’t ultimately show ASEAN’s unity. Ironically, even as it signals an important milestone in the history of resolving the maritime rows between China and clamant-states, it also cements the return to settling the territorial discord over South China Sea through bilateral talks – just the way China wants it.

Duterte’s pivot: Good to a point

As the height of irony, the first sign of the thawing of Manila’s cold relations with Beijing started when the Philippines won its dispute against the latter when an international court in The Hague struck down China’s nine-dash claim in July 2016, scoring a significant win for the Philippines which, devoid of military might, had to cast its lot in the international court of arbitration.

It was a historic win in a David-vs-Goliath scenario. But Duterte was quick to change the tone of the triumph, calling “on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety” instead of celebrating the stunning rebuke to China.

There are two major explanations behind Duterte’s lackluster reaction. US President Barack Obama chastised the Philippine leader for alleged human rights violations allegedly committed under Duterte’s violent and murderous war on drugs, sparking a furious response from Duterte, who responds to criticism of his actions with hair-raising rhetoric.

But in addition, Duterte has always maintained that the Philippines is no match for the military and economic superpower China and that as an Asian neighbor it is in the Philippines’ interest to make its own pivot.

That is a mantra that defined the Philippines’ ASEAN chairmanship. And, while it marked a shocking turnaround for the Philippines – which used to be counted on as one of the most aggressive and vocal ASEAN-member states in its opposition to China’s expansionism in South China Sea – it did help keep China at the negotiating table until a framework on the COC was finalized.

“The Duterte administration’s ‘softly’ approach on its disputes with China in South China Sea permitted the framework agreement to be realized,” said Malcolm Cook, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Prior to Duterte’s reign, his predecessor Benigno Aquino III explored different ways to strengthen the position of the ASEAN claimant-states. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs proposed a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Cooperation in the South China Sea in 2011 to enclave the Spratly and Paracel islands and turn them into a Joint Cooperation Area.

The proposal, however, did not gain much support from other ASEAN members. The following year, China and the Philippines would engage in a standoff in the Scarborough Shoal, pushing the Philippines to consider taking the legal route – and eventually winning – against China.

ASEAN, however, was divided over the Philippines’ victory in 2016.  While Vietnam lauded it, Cambodia – which considers China a major economic ally – objected to it being referenced in the joint communique at the 2016 ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, resulting in the first time the organization failed to agree on a joint communique.

When the Philippines chaired ASEAN in 2017, it adopted Cambodia’s stance, negating the mention of Manila’s momentous victory in any forum involving ASEAN and China. The Philippines took that a step further by opposing the inclusion of any objection to China’s alleged militarization and land reclamation in South China Sea in the joint communique in August.

In the ASEAN Regional Forum in August 2017, Philippine foreign affairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano admitted that the Philippines wanted references to land reclamation and militarization in South China Sea dropped in the joint communique, forcing Vietnam into a corner. “They’re not reclaiming land anymore, so why will you put it again this year?” he said.

In the end though, consensus prevailed and the chairman had to give in. The Philippines withdrew its opposition and the joint communique contained language showing concerns over China’s reported militarization and land reclamation activities.

But up until the 31st ASEAN Summit in November, even as the Philippines was caught in another standoff –   albeit briefly – with China in Thitu (Pag-asa) island, the Philippines was still generally cordial in its approach.

The most that Duterte did is to bring up with China the concerns of ASEAN about freedom of navigation in the strategic trade route, which China said it wouldn’t impede.

 “The warmer ties between Philippines and China, combined with the chairmanship of the Philippines, were instrumental in drawing down the prominence of the (South China Sea) SCS disputes on the ASEAN agenda, from being a divisive issue in 2013 into a practically peripheral matter in 2017,” Jay Bongalo, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said.

“This will allow ASEAN to essentially remove the controversial aspects of the SCS issues from its agenda, move on from playing any really significant role in the resolution of the territorial and jurisdictional rows, and allow the ASEAN claimant countries to deal with their respective issues bilaterally with China.”

Even if the Philippines was able to get the negotiations on the COC going, ASEAN as whole and at its best, will now largely focus on crisis management or prevention. When it comes to resolving territorial tiff, each country will now be left on its own – a crucial victory for Beijing.

 ASEAN’s expected “lowest point:” human rights

In the 31st ASEAN Summit, allegations by a long list of human rights organizations over violations and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines were brought up by the US (though this was denied by the Philippines), Canada and New Zealand, countries that are external partners of ASEAN, but not by ASEAN members themselves.

The Philippines, which decried any criticism over the issue from other countries, was also silent on another human rights concern, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar. The Rohingya ethnic group had to flee the Rakhine state in Myanmar due to cases of persecution and discrimination.

This was a curious reaction as Duterte appeared sympathetic to the state of refugees from the Middle East, even saying that they are welcome to the Philippines. In the case of the Rohingya however, the Philippines drew the line when it did not mention the “Rohingya” in its statement at the UN General Assembly in New York in September. This was challenged by Malaysia, which slammed the statement as a “misrepresentation of reality.””

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Malaysia has yet to find an ally from ASEAN. At the ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting, Philippine Defense Sec. Delfina Lorenzana said that ASEAN agreed the Rohingya problem is an “internal matter” in Myanmar.

ASEAN’s hands-off attitude over the human rights problems in the Philippines and Myanmar were to be expected, however according to political analysts given the body’s principle of non-interference.

“ASEAN’s handling of the most prominent human rights issues such as the Rohingya crisis and the drug-related killings in the Philippines are definitely the lowest points in its performance,” Batongbacal said. “However, this is to be expected given ASEAN’s non-interference principle and reluctance to discuss human rights issues, as both directly involve the domestic policies of member-states.”

Malcolm agreed, saying ASEAN’s hands are further tied by its principle to act based on consensus. While saying that ASEAN’s response to the reported human rights violations in the Philippines and Myanmar were far from sufficient, one should not expect much from it.

“As ASEAN is an inter-governmental, consensus-based body, one should not expect much from ASEAN in relation to human rights abuses undertaken by member-states,” Malcolm said. “Quiet diplomacy and moral suasion is the best ASEAN will do in this front.”

There’s one bright spot, however when it comes to ASEAN’s action on rights – and that is the signing of the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The agreement, which gives allows migrant workers to form unions apart from enjoying other rights, came 10 years after ASEAN member-states adopted the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in Cebu, Philippines.

United against extremism

ASEAN, while divided on a number of issues, was united when it comes to tackling terrorism, a problem faced by the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Philippines in particular just ended a five-month siege in Marawi city, Mindanao which was caused by the ISIS-inspired Maute group.

ASEAN said it will take on additional preventive measures to stop the growth of terrorism in the region. These include education and enlisting the help of the women and youth sector to counter extremist leanings.

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When it comes to another threat to security, however – the nuclear ambition of North Korea – ASEAN, while one with the rest of the international community in condemning its launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles, did not go as far as asking its member-countries to cut ties with North Korea.

“Cambodia and Laos in particular have close relations with North Korea and this has not changed despite the focus on international pressure in North Korea,” Malcolm said.

In trademark ASEAN diplomacy, the regional bloc also kept its doors open to North Korea in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The ARF has previously been touted by ASEAN as a venue for the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, the US, Russia, China and Japan.

 Not paralyzed by controversy

Under the Philippine chairmanship, Malcom said ASEAN gained some headway when it comes to trade, signing the ASEAN-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Agreement (AHKFTA) and the ASEAN-Hong Kong Investment Agreement which could spur business opportunities in the region. The regional bloc has yet to gain significant progress though in the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Agreement, which aims to lower tariffs and strengthen regional economic integration and cooperation.

Batongbacal said that ASEAN also deserved some plus points for putting the spotlight on the role of micro, small and medium economic enterprises in economic growth.

Remarks by President Trump on His Trip to Asia (Full Text)


November 16, 2017

Remarks by President Trump on His Trip to Asia

Source: The White House, Washington DC

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“I explained to all of the world leaders, and across Asia, how well the United States is doing. Economic growth has been over 3 percent the last two quarters and is going higher. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 17 years. The stock market has gained trillions of dollars in value since my election and has reached record highs. We are massively increasing our military budget to historic levels .–President Donald J. Trump

 

Last night, I returned from a historic 12-day trip to Asia. This journey took us to five nations to meet with dozens of foreign leaders, participate in three formal state visits, and attend three key regional summits. It was the longest visit to the region by an American President in more than a quarter of a century.

Everywhere we went, our foreign hosts greeted the American delegation, myself included, with incredible warmth, hospitality, and most importantly respect. And this great respect showed very well our country is — further evidence that America’s renewed confidence and standing in the world has never been stronger than it is right now.

When we are confident in ourselves, our strength, our flag, our history, our values — other nations are confident in us. And when we treat our citizens with the respect they deserve, other countries treat America with the respect that our country so richly deserves.

During our travels, this is exactly what the world saw: a strong, proud, and confident America.

Today, I want to update the American people on the tremendous success of this trip and the progress we’ve made to advance American security and prosperity throughout the year.

When I came into office, our country was faced with a series of growing dangers. These threats included rogue regimes pursuing deadly weapons, foreign powers challenging America’s influence, the spread of the murderous terror group ISIS, and years of unfair trade practices that had dangerously depleted our manufacturing base and wiped out millions and millions of middle-class jobs.

The challenges were inherited, and these products really showed what previous mistakes were made over many years — and even decades — by other administrations. Some of these mistakes were born of indifference and neglect. Others from naïve thinking and misguided judgement. In some cases, the negative influence of partisan politics and special interests was to blame. But the one common thread behind all of these problems was a failure to protect and promote the interests of the American people and American workers.

Upon my inauguration, I pledged that we would rebuild America, restore its economic strength, and defend its national security. With this goal in mind, I vowed that we would reaffirm old alliances and form new friendships in pursuit of shared goals. Above all, I swore that in every decision, with every action, I would put the best interests of the American people first.

Over the past 10 months, traveling across the globe and meeting with world leaders, that is exactly what I have done.

Earlier this year, in Saudi Arabia, I spoke to the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations about our strategy to defeat terrorists by stripping them of financing, territory, and ideological support. And I urged the leaders to drive out the terrorists and extremists from their societies. Since that time, we have dealt ISIS one crushing defeat after another.

In Israel, I reaffirmed the unbreakable bond between America and the Jewish State, and I met with leaders of the Palestinian Authority and initiated an effort to facilitate lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In Brussels, I urged our NATO allies to do more to strengthen our crucial alliance and set the stage for significant increases in member contributions. Billions and billions of dollars are pouring in because of that initiative. NATO, believe me, is very happy with Donald Trump and what I did.

In Warsaw, I declared to the world America’s resolve to preserve and protect Western civilization and the values we hold so dear.

In Rome, Sicily, Hamburg, and Paris, I strengthened our friendships with key allies to promote our shared interests of security and prosperity.

In September, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, I urged that the nations of the world join in confronting rogue regimes that threaten humanity and laid out a model for international cooperation grounded in respect for sovereignty and the responsibilities that come with it.

On each trip, I have worked to advance American interests and leadership in the world.

And to each of these places, I have carried our vision for a better — a vision for something stronger and sovereign — so important — sovereign and independent nations, rooted in their histories, confident in their destinies, and cooperating together to advance their security, prosperity, and the noble cause of peace.

It was this same vision that I carried to Asia two weeks ago. And it was this same commitment to you, the American people, that was always at the forefront of my mind and my thinking.

Our trip was defined by three core goals. First: to unite the world against the nuclear menace posed by the North Korean regime, a threat that has increased steadily through many administrations and now requires urgent action.

Second: to strengthen America’s alliances and economic partnerships in a free and open Indo-Pacific, made up of thriving, independent nations, respectful of other countries and their own citizens, and safe from foreign domination and economic servitude.

And third: to finally — after many years — insist on fair and reciprocal trade. Fair and reciprocal trade — so important. These two words — fairness and reciprocity — are an open invitation to every country that seeks to do business with the United States, and they are a firm warning to every country that cheats, breaks the rules, and engages in economic aggression — like they’ve been doing in the past, especially in the recent past.

That is why we have almost an $800-billion-a-year trade deficit with other nations. Unacceptable. We are going to start whittling that down, and as fast as possible.

With these goals, it was my profound honor to travel on this journey as your representative. I explained to all of the world leaders, and across Asia, how well the United States is doing. Economic growth has been over 3 percent the last two quarters and is going higher. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 17 years. The stock market has gained trillions of dollars in value since my election and has reached record highs. We are massively increasing our military budget to historic levels. The House has just passed a nearly $700 billion defense package, and it could not come at a better time for our nation.

Once again our country is optimistic about the future, confident in our values, and proud of our history and a role in the world.

I want to thank every citizen of this country for the part you have played in making this great American comeback possible. In Asia, our message was clear and well received: America is here to compete, to do business, and to defend our values and our security.

We began our trip in Hawaii to pay our respects to brave American service members at Pearl Harbor and the United States Pacific Command, the guardian of our security and freedom across the Indo-Pacific region.

As our country prepared to observe Veterans Day, we remembered the incredible sacrifices and courage of all of the veterans whose service has preserved our liberty and a way of life that is very special. We also thanked military families for their support for our brave servicemen and women.

From Hawaii, we traveled to Japan, a crucial U.S. ally and partner in the region . Upon landing in Japan, my first act was to thank the American service members and Japanese Self-Defense Forces who personify the strength of our enduring alliance.

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Prime Minister Abe and I agreed on our absolute determination to remain united to achieve the goal of denuclearized North Korea. Shortly following our visit, Japan announced additional sanctions on 35 North Korean entities and individuals. Japan also committed to shouldering more of the burden of our common defense by reimbursing costs borne by American taxpayers, as well as by making deep investments in Japan’s own military. This will include purchases of U.S. advanced capabilities — from jet fighters to missile defense systems worth many, many billions of dollars — and jobs for the American worker.

The Prime Minister and I also discussed ways we can deepen our trade relationship based on the core principles of fairness and reciprocity. I am pleased that since January of this year, Japanese companies have announced investments in the United States worth more than $8 billion — 17,000 jobs. Thank you.

Oh, they don’t have water? That’s okay. What? That’s okay.

(Drinks water.)

THE PRESIDENT: Japanese manufacturers, Toyota and Mazda, announced that they will be opening a new plant in the United States that will create 4,000 jobs.

We also signed agreements between our nations to enhance infrastructure development, increase access to affordable energy, and advance our foreign policy goals through economic investment.

From Japan, we traveled to another key American ally in Asia — the Republic of Korea. My official state visit to South Korea was the first by an American President in 25 years.

Speaking before the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, I spoke the truth about the evil crimes of the North Korean regime, and I made clear that we will not allow this twisted dictatorship to hold the world hostage to nuclear blackmail.

I called on every nation, including China and Russia, to unite in isolating the North Korean regime — cutting off all ties of trade and commerce — until it stops its dangerous provocation on — and this is the whole key to what we’re doing — on denuclearization. We have to denuclearize North Korea.

We have ended the failed strategy of strategic patience, and, as a result, we have already seen important progress — including tough new sanctions from the U.N. council — we have a Security Council that has been with us and just about with us from the beginning.

South Korea agreed to harmonize sanctions and joined the United States in sanctioning additional rogue actors whose fund and funds have helped North Korea and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It’s unacceptable to us.

The United States welcomed the decision of President Moon to remove the payload restrictions on missiles to combat the North Korean threat. And together we reaffirmed our commitment to a campaign of maximum pressure.

Like Japan, South Korea is increasing its defense contributions. During our meetings, President Moon acknowledged his desire for equitable cost-sharing for the United States military forces stationed in South Korea. And I visited soldiers at Camp Humphreys, a brand-new, joint American-South Korean base, paid for almost entirely by the South Korean government. At that base, I discussed with the United States and South Korean military leaders both military options and readiness to respond to North Korean provocation or offensive actions.

During our visit, President Moon and I also discussed America’s commitment to reducing our trade deficit with South Korea. At my discretion and direction, we are currently renegotiating the disastrous U.S.-Korea trade agreement signed under the previous administration. It has been a disaster for the United States.

Last week, 42 South Korean companies announced their intent to invest in projects worth more than $17 billion dollars in the United States, and 24 companies announced plans to purchase $58 billion dollars in American goods and services.

From South Korea, Melania and I traveled to China, where, as in Japan and South Korea, we were greatly honored by the splendor of our reception. Our trip included the first official dinner held for a foreign leader in the Forbidden City since the founding of the modern China, where we enjoyed a very productive evening hosted by President Xi and his wonderful wife, Madam Pung.

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During our visit, President Xi pledged to faithfully implement United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea and to use his great economic influence over the regime to achieve our common goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

President Xi recognizes that a nuclear North Korea is a grave threat to China, and we agreed that we would not accept a so-called “freeze for freeze” agreement like those that have consistently failed in the past. We made that time is running out and we made it clear, and all options remain on the table.

I also had very candid conversations with President Xi about the need to reduce our staggering trade deficit with China and for our trading relationship to be conducted on a truly fair and equitable basis. We can no longer tolerate unfair trading practices that steal American jobs, wealth, and intellectual property. The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over.

In China, we also announced $250 billion worth in trade-investment deals that will create jobs in the United States.

From China, I flew to the city of Da Nang in Vietnam, to attend the Leaders Meeting for APEC — Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. There, I spoke to a major gathering of business leaders, where I reminded the world of America’s historic role in the Pacific as a force for freedom and for peace.

Image result for President Trump at APEC DanangU.S. President Donald Trump speaks on the final day of the APEC CEO Summit on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Danang, Vietnam, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (Photo | Associated Press)

 

Standing on this proud history, I offered our vision for robust trading relationships in which Indo-Pacific nations can all prosper and grow together. I announced that the United States is ready to make bilateral trade deals with any nation in the region that wants to be our partner in fair and reciprocal trade.

We will never again turn a blind eye to trading abuses, to cheating, economic aggression, or anything else from countries that profess a belief in open trade, but do not follow the rules or live by its principles themselves.

No international trading organization can function if members are allowed to exploit the openness of others for unfair economic gain. Trade abuses harm the United States and its workers — but no more. No more.

We will take every trade action necessary to achieve the fair and reciprocal treatment that the United States has offered to the rest of the world for decades.

My message has resonated. The 21 APEC leaders — for the first time ever — recognized the importance of fair and reciprocal trade, recognized the need to address unfair trade practices, and acknowledged that the WTO is in strong need of reform. These leaders also noted that countries must do a better job following the rules to which they agreed.

I also made very clear that the United States will promote a free and open Indo-Pacific in which nations enjoy the independence and respect they deserve.

In Vietnam, during a state visit in Hanoi, I also met with President Quang and Prime Minister Fook to discuss the growing friendship between our countries. Our Vietnamese partners are taking new actions to enforce sanctions on North Korea. In addition, we committed to expand trade and investment between our countries, and we pledged to address the imbalances. I am particularly pleased that the United States and Vietnam recently announced $12 billion in commercial agreements, which will include $10 billion in U.S. content.

 

Finally, I visited the Philippines, where I met with numerous world leaders at the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia Summits. At ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — we made it clear that no one owns the ocean. Freedom of navigation and overflight are critical to the security and prosperity of all nations.

I also met with the Prime Ministers of India, Australia, and Japan to discuss our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

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During our visit, President Duterte of the Philippines thanked the American people and our armed forces for supporting the recent liberation of Marawi from ISIS. We pledged to strengthen and deepen our long-standing alliance.

At the East Asia Summit, the United States negotiated and signed four important leaders’ statements on the use of chemical weapons, money laundering, poverty alleviation, and countering terrorist propaganda and financing.

And crucially, at both summits and throughout the trip, we asked all nations to support our campaign of maximum pressure for North Korean denuclearization. And they are responding by cutting trade with North Korea, restricting financial ties to the regime, and expelling North Korean diplomats and workers.

Over the last two weeks, we have made historic strides in reasserting American leadership, restoring American security, and reawakening American confidence.

Everywhere we went, I reaffirmed our vision for cooperation between proud, independent and sovereign countries — and I made clear that the United States will be a reliable friend, a strong partner, and a powerful advocate for its own citizens.

The momentum from our trip will launch us on our continued effort to accomplish the three core objectives I outlined: to unite the world against North Korean nuclear threat, to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and to advance fair and reciprocal economic relations with our trading partners and allies in the region.

We have established a new framework for trade that will ensure reciprocity through enforcement actions, reform of international organizations, and new fair trade deals that benefit the United States and our partners.

And we have laid out a pathway toward peace and security in our world where sovereign nations can thrive, flourish, and prosper side-by-side.

This is our beautiful vision for the future. This is a where this vision — this dream — is only possible if America is strong, proud, and free.

As long as we are true to ourselves, faithful to our founding, and loyal to our citizens, then there is no task too great, no dream too large, no goal beyond our reach.

My fellow citizens: America is back. And the future has never looked brighter.

Thank you. God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you all.

Asia Trip: President Donald Trump reports to The American People


November 16,2017

Asia Trip: President Donald Trump reports to The American People

– President Trump Delivers Statement on Asia Trip – President Trump Delivers Remarks to the American People, November 15, 2017–The White House, Washington D.C

Full Text of President’s Statement to follow when it is available.–Din Merican

CNN Reports:

In Asia, Trump again finds success overseas easier than at home

US finds unlikely ally in Vietnam as Philippine President Duterte tilts to China


November 10, 2017

US finds unlikely ally in Vietnam as  Philippine President Duterte tilts to China

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/09/asia/trump-vietnam-philippines/index.html

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US President Donald Trump may have left China for the final leg of his Asia tour, but the specter of Beijing will loom large over his discussions with Southeast Asian nations on the issues dominating the region.

At the core of much of what Trump will do, and what those nations hope he will accomplish during his visit, will depend on America’s ability to counter China’s growth and its ambitions.

China’s used development aid, closer diplomatic ties with nations like the Philippines, and its military expansiveness to spread its footprint in the region. How Trump decides to respond to this will be evidenced during a series of key meetings.

On Friday, Trump will come face-to-face with the outwardly anti-American president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte at the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam. The US President will then participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting, before delivering a speech at the APEC CEO Summit, the White House has said.

On Saturday, he will travel to Hanoi for an official visit and bilateral meetings with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and other senior Vietnamese officials.

‘America has lost now’

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Being an American ally has been in the DNA of the Philippines for decades, says Alexander Neill, a Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. The former American colony is the oldest partner the United States has had in the region, but it is a tumultuous history the two nations share, with political, defense and economic challenges that have at times caused friction that has brought them to the brink of diplomatic divorce.

“It’s a relationship that, if handled in the right way, could be promising,” Neill told CNN. “As a businessman, Trump is going to be wanting to convince the Philippines of the risks of putting too many eggs in the Chinese basket.”

It was this time last year that Philippines’ Duterte announced in Beijing that “America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.” He told his Chinese hosts that he may also “go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Duterte, known for speaking brashly later backtracked on his comments, insisting what he’d referred to in Beijing was not “a severance of ties,” and that he wasn’t cutting diplomatic relations. “What I was really saying,” he told reporters, “was a separation of foreign policy.”

Whether this so-called “separation” bears out will likely depend on Duterte and Trump’s personal relationship. Duterte, whose savage dislike of former President Barack Obama was well known, has promised to “deal with President Trump in the most righteous way,” when the two meet in Manila. Though he has also said he will “listen to him, what he has to say.”  Trump has invited Duterte to the White House

“If you’re going to do a character analysis Trump and Duterte are a perfect match,” said Neil. “These two guys see eye to eye and I think there’s evidence to suggest that all of this animosity and rhetoric between the US and the Philippines has died down quite considerably.”

Trump, in a phone call to the Philippines leader in May, told Duterte he was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem,” referring to the 14-month long crackdown on the drug trade in the Philippines which human rights groups claim thousands of people have been killed, many without due process. Duterte has rejected international criticism of the campaign.

But it is also possible that the two leaders’ personal dynamic could become damaging, says Aaron Connelly from the Lowy Institute. “Duterte is a lot like Trump, he’s sort of an unpredictable character and clearly the leaders who work best with Trump are the ones who are sort of willing to bury their ego and do things that appeal to Trump’s ego,” Connelly said.

As examples, he pointed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s hosting Trump during Bastille Day celebrations, or Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s gifting of a golden golf club that helped mollify the American president.

 

Duterte may not be able to overcome his animosity towards the United States, Connelly said. “He’s the first Philippines president from Mindanao and he brings with him all the baggage that involves,” he said. “He grew up with his grandmother telling him stories of American atrocities on Moro during the colonial period.
One of Duterte’s grandparents was Muslim and some of his grandchildren are Muslim, and he regards himself as half Muslim because he’s half-Moro, so he has some real anti-American feelings and he’s very loathe to acknowledge any of the assistance the US has provided in Marawi,” added Connelly, referring to the embattled city where US forces have helped Philippine security forces battle ISIS fighters.
And he has turned to China most effusively, joining the One Belt, One Road trade and investment initiative Beijing launched earlier this year, which offers billions in funding to developing countries. He has also reportedly muted his opposition of China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea, even as the US beefs up its maritime presence in the region.

Vietnam’s pivot to the West

In contrast, Vietnam, which since the Clinton administration has been the subject of back-and-forth diplomacy, is now viewed as a key partner for Washington and worthy of a more sustained relationship.
President Bill Clinton’s visit to Hanoi was the first by a sitting US president since the end of the Vietnam War. It paved the way for a meeting in 2015 between President Obama and the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong.
The meeting violated protocol, the Atlantic reported, because the general secretary was not a head of state. “But the goals trumped decorum: Obama wanted to lobby the Vietnamese on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — his negotiators soon extracted a promise from the Vietnamese that they would legalize independent labor unions — and he wanted to deepen cooperation on strategic issues.”
The Obama administration officials also reportedly said that Vietnam would “one day soon host a permanent US military presence to check the ambitions of the country it now fears most, China.”
Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal but military cooperation with Hanoi continues. Defense Secretary James Mattis told his Vietnamese counterparts in August to expect a visit from a US aircraft carrier next year, the first such visit since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
Vietnam’s growing closeness to the United States is an increasing irritant to China, says Connelly. “For the Vietnamese, the threat has always come from the north. They would say ‘we’ve been aggressively visited by many great powers over the course of our history, whether it’s the French or the US, but the longterm strategic concern has always been China,'” he said.
These concerns are underscored by the two countries’ ongoing dispute over islands in the South China Sea. China’s claims to the South China Sea stretch roughly 1,000 miles from its southern shores, and include energy rich areas also claimed by Vietnam.
In July of this year, Vietnam suspended oil drilling in contested waters in the South China Sea, after alleged threats from China. “Over the course of a millennia they (the Vietnamese) were able to maintain their independence from China throughout that period, and they’re incredibly proud of that,” added Connelly. “For them, having partners like the US to help them build up their maritime abilities and to continue to make sure the US is engaged in the region is really important.”

An opportunity for Trump to exploit

During the Vietnamese prime minister’s visit to the White House in May, the two countries signed $8 billion worth of commercial deals and discussed the transfer of a decommissioned US Coast Guard cutter to the Vietnamese coast guard which is designed to patrol coastal waters. The US has also transferred six patrol boats to Vietnam.
Washington has relaxed its arms embargo against Hanoi and its solidifying relationship with the Vietnamese stands in marked contrast to Hanoi’s seemingly deteriorating one with Beijing.
In June representatives from Vietnam and China met in Hanoi, but the gathering finished early when Chinese officials broke off the summit reportedly over Vietnam’s outreach to Japan and the US, as well as its objections to China’s continued buildup of disputed islands in the South China Sea.
“The Sino-Vietnamese relationship is quite fraught in many ways, but that said, I think the business community and potential investors and cross-border trade, it’s a huge relationship there,” said Alexander Neill.
“China’s economic weight is on Vietnam’s doorstep, but the military to military relationship is not good at the moment. If the US decides to exploit that to some degree it will serve as an irritant to President Xi Jinping and the People’s Liberation Army.”

In Asia: Will he be a Presidential or Rowdy Trump?


In Asia: Is he a Presidential or Rowdy Trump?

by David Brown@www.asiasentinel.com

Image result for Presidential or Rowdy Trump

Diplomacy is a low key, under-the-radar sort of business.That’s not President Donald Trump’s style at all. He seems to enjoy making waves. He craves attention and despises detail. Supporting his 12-day trip to East Asia will test the mettle of five Ambassadors and their staffs. 

Good diplomacy doesn’t make waves. Diplomats seek to achieve their nation’s objectives by means short of war. In the modern era, they coordinate activities intended to enmesh other nations in a web of relationships that’s so mutually profitable, so central to their own well-being, that war is unthinkable.

American diplomats preside over the broadest array of such activities, chiefly including trade relations, military, legal and intelligence cooperation, humanitarian and development assistance and a remarkably diverse portfolio of science and health objectives. Typically it’s a low key, under-the-radar sort of business.

That’s not President Donald Trump’s style at all. He seems to enjoy making waves. He craves attention and despises detail. Supporting his 12-day trip to East Asia will test the mettle of five ambassadors and their staffs. That’s not because they know Trump scorns their profession, but because at every stop there’s ample opportunity for Trump to drop a clanger.

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The American president’s first stops are Tokyo and Seoul, two capitals already made jittery by his polemical exchanges with North Korea’s dictator. In 1951, the US pledged to defend Japan in the event of an attack. In return, Japan pledged to forgo offensive military capabilities – a commitment manifested in its reliance on the American nuclear umbrella. In 1953, the US and South Korea reached a similar understanding. Sustaining the Korean and Japanese governments’ confidence that the US would truly be willing to use its nuclear weapons to defend them has been a consistent objective of US diplomacy.

And now Trump, who has warned that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury” if it attacks the United States with nuclear weapons but has conspicuously failed to remind Pyongyang that Washington is also pledged to defend South Korea and Japan. He has rattled the leadership of both allies. The lavish receptions awaiting him there may feed the US president’s ego but are unlikely to leave them any more confident that he’ll stand with them come what may from Pyongyang.

Perhaps Trump has learned a few things about the ordinary conduct of foreign affairs since his first foray abroad to Saudi Arabia and to the NATO headquarters in Brussels. Even so, the US president’s repeated gaffes on that trip have fueled US diplomats’ apprehension that at any time he may just wing it, improvising remarks that, if they don’t cause a flap, at the least undermine his foreign peers’ confidence in American constancy.

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Put another way, senior leaders are expected to watch their words and control their impulses. Consider China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for example. Wang was in Hanoi last week, and just afterward (and with a straight face), a senior aide told reporters that Wang and Vietnamese representatives ”reached an important consensus. Both sides will uphold the principle of friendly consultations and dialogue to jointly manage and control maritime disputes, and protect the bigger picture of developing Sino-Vietnam relations and stability in the South China Sea.”

Consider also Wang’s principal interlocutor, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, whose press statement said he’d proposed that the two countries resolve disputes based on common sense and international law.

Neither Wang nor Minh were grandstanding, nor is peace about to break out along the infamous nine-dash line.  In fact, the two officials were for the most part repeating a several year-old formula, one that’s been of no perceptible utility in the resolution of the maritime disputes but, having been said again, has papered over recent unpleasantness, thus enabling the neighbors to get on with other business.

(Minh, however, took care to remind Wang of the relevance of international law, a pointed riposte to China’s rejection of a tribunal’s ruling that its infamous nine-dashed line is illegal.)

When heads of government go abroad, they function as diplomats. Like diplomats, they should leave politics and personal whims at home. If they can’t behave constructively when matters of national security and prosperity are at stake, they are at least expected to behave predictably and prudently.

Trump hasn’t yet shown that he’s capable of coloring inside those lines.

David Brown is a retired US diplomat with wide experience in Vietnam and a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel.

Are Minilaterals the Future of ASEAN Security?


October 2, 2017

Are Minilaterals the Future of ASEAN Security?

by Grace Guiang, Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation Inc.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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The Indonesia–Malaysia–Philippines Trilateral Maritime Patrol (Indomalphi) implemented its first joint patrol in June 2017. Almost a year since signing the trilateral framework in August 2016, the recent attack by the Maute group in the Philippines emphasised the urgent need for cooperation. With a growing number of common threats, how will trilateral or minilateral arrangements such as Indomalphi contribute to ASEAN security? And what are the implications for ASEAN security cooperation?

On the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Laos in May 2016, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed to pursue trilateral patrols in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Despite the increase since then in crimes committed at sea such as kidnapping, piracy and smuggling, the agreement did not have the momentum for an immediate launch until the Marawi siege on 23 May in the Philippines.

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Not surprisingly, the consultations on crafting the standard operating procedures stalled due to sovereignty issues. The customised standard operating procedures allow the military personnel of the contracting parties to enter each other’s waters in times of emergency with prior knowledge of the state being entered. This is only applicable at sea and does not apply if the chase reaches land.

Aside from patrols and communication hotlines, the three countries will establish military command centres for intelligence sharing in Tarakan in North Kalimantan, Tawau in Sabah and Bongao in Tawi-Tawi. They further agreed to establish transit corridors for commercial activities. In July, Indonesia and the Philippines created new shipping routes connecting the cities of Davao, General Santos and North Sulawesi Province.

Image result for indonesia malaysia and philippines launch joint patrols to tackle isis threat

Foreign Ministers and Defence officials of Malaysia,  Philippines and Indonesia agreed to work together to share information, track communications and crack down on the flow of arms, fighters and money, amid what experts says is the biggest security threat facing Southeast Asia in decades.

Security cooperation such as joint maritime patrols and the exchange of information is not new for these littoral states. The Philippines and Indonesia, who signed a pact on boundary delimitation in 2014, have been jointly patrolling the Celebes Sea since 1986. The two navies traditionally carried out drills in communications, replenishment of logistics at sea, medical missions by military personnel and joint search and rescue operations. Malaysian and Philippine navies also conduct coordinated patrols twice a year. And Kuala Lumpur has been working with Manila on anti-smuggling since 1967 and with Jakarta on avoiding incidents at sea since 2010.

But bilateral arrangements are no longer enough to address the convergence of challenges. First, the environment in this part of the region is characterised by porous borders and governance difficulties, which allows extremists, including supporters of the so-called Islamic State, to easily coordinate and transact with contacts around the area — creating networks and strengthening terrorist groups’ foothold in Southeast Asia. The terrorist threats the three states are confronting are clearly transnational in nature, thus requiring wider and deeper coordination among them.

Second, the growing threat raises questions regarding the capabilities of regional navies and coast guards, their resources and the effectiveness of existing bilateral cooperation in maritime law enforcement. While it has been argued that the tri-maritime patrol is asymmetric in terms of the needs, capabilities, political will and priorities of each state, the inadequacies of each party could instead be seen as an opportunity for cooperation, helping each state to develop their own capabilities.

Considering the success of the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP) in deterring piracy since 2004. And now this newly launched Indomalphi, minilateral arrangements seem to have become a promising model for maritime cooperation compared to ASEAN-wide cooperation. The approach is specific to states that are directly involved in the problem, making it fast, flexible and feasible.

This arrangement is not necessarily exclusive to littoral states. Thailand became a party to MSP in 2006, while Vietnam and Myanmar are observers. Meanwhile Singapore, Brunei and Thailand have been invited to be Indomalphi observers.

On one hand, with the littoral states taking the lead and neighbours being invited to observe or participate later, minilateralism advances ASEAN security by testing the waters and preparing states for regional cooperation — sometimes called the bottom-up approach.

On the other hand, minilateralism challenges ASEAN to address issues collectively. It tests how ASEAN will manage to make this kind of arrangement beneficial for the entire region. For instance, the region has several bodies of water shared among its member states, including the complex South China Sea. Indomalphi demonstrates that cooperation can be done even with territorial disputes, political differences and reservations on sovereignty issues.

If ASEAN wishes to maintain its centrality and leadership in the region, it must recognise that the threats to the security of its member states are ever-evolving. If minilateralism demonstrates that it can work effectively, then ASEAN should use it to push for broader regional security cooperation mechanisms.

Grace Guiang is Research Assistant at the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation IncA version of this article was first published here in APPFI.