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
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Rohingya boat people: Myanmar’s shame


May 24, 2015

Phnom Penh

Rohingya boat people

Myanmar’s shame

Poverity, politics and despair are forcing thousands of Rohingyas to flee Myanmar. The authorities remain woefully indifferent to their plight

Since 2012 all the Rohingya villages and camps have been totally cut off from predominantly Rakhine towns like Sittwe. This has made it almost impossible for inhabitants to make a decent living. Tall wire fences are now being erected, completing their isolation. One Rohingyan says he used to have a good taxi business in Sittwe. Now he uses his motorcycle to carry a few customers in a small village. He makes about one-third of the money he used to. Most Rohingyas are farmers or fishermen. The former cannot return to their fields; the latter have few boats left and are driven away from fishing grounds by Rakhines if they manage to get out to sea.

The local authorities insist that this forced isolation is for the Rohingyas’ own good, to protect them from further attacks. Rohingyas, however, see it as the culmination of a long-standing policy of apartheid, depriving them of the last benefits that they enjoyed living among Rakhines. No Rohingya student, for instance, has been allowed into the university at Sittwe during the last three years. They are not allowed into the township hospitals unless it is a life-and-death situation. “It’s really inhumane stuff,” says an aid worker.

Any hopes among Rohingyas that the country’s turn to quasi-civilian rule in 2011 after decades of military dictatorship might improve their lot have evaporated. While life is improving for many others in Myanmar, it is not for Rohingyas. They are unwitting victims of a deadly political game for control of what some Burmese proclaim to be the “New Myanmar”. Thus, for instance, while the rest of the country is preparing for a general election in November—the first democratic one in a quarter-century—a sleight of hand involving their voting documents has effectively deprived Rohingyas of the right to participate. Last year, during the first national census for years, Rohingyas were only allowed to register as “Bengalis”. In protest, most of them boycotted the count.

The government is pandering to a growing anti-Muslim hysteria in the country. Such sentiment has been encouraged by hardliners in the army and the ruling party who calculate that humiliating the millions of Muslims in Myanmar plays well with many Buddhist Burmese. It is often supported by the more chauvinist Buddhist monks as well. The hardliners have an election to win; they believe that playing to anti-Muslim feeling might give them an advantage over the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party.

Even Ms Suu Kyi, however, a Nobel peace-prize winner who campaigns relentlessly for human rights and the rule of law, has been loth to stand up for the human rights of Rohingyas. For some of her supporters, this has been extremely disappointing. Her low-key response has made it easier for the government virtually to ignore the boat-people crisis. By May 19th there had been no mention of it in the government-run Global New Light of Myanmar, an English-language newspaper. Rohingyas are not technically “citizens”, so the government feels that it can wash its hands of the problem.

Clearly ministers feel that they have no wider moral or humanitarian obligation to people whose families have lived and worked here for, in many cases, over a century. In the face of such callous indifference from all quarters in Myanmar, it is hardly surprising that so many thousands are taking to the sea. Unless the situation changes, the only guarantee is that even more will try to flee at the start of the next dry season, with the same appalling results.

Time for ASEAN and the United Nations to act


May 20, 2015

Phnom Penh

READ THIS:

http://www.aseanmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/The-Rohingya-Crisis-and-the-Risk-of-Atrocities-in-Myanmar-An-ASEAN-Challenge-and-Call-to-Action.pdf

Merhrom :Time for ASEAN and the United Nations to act

by Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani@www.malaysiakini.com

The Rohingya ExodusThe Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom) is deeply sad over the recent tragedy of thousands of boat people involving ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshis.

This is proof that ethnic Rohingyas in Myanmar are facing continuous systematic prosecutions from the Myanmar government. We face gross human rights violations by the state, we have become victims of genocide for generations and are left to die in horrible makeshift camps in our own homeland without food, water and medical supplies from the government.

Boat People 1 Due to horrible situation we face in our homeland, we take risks to flee the country to seek refuge in other countries. We feel very sad to hear that thousands of boat people are turned back to sea as the neighbouring countries are refusing to give protection to new asylum seekers.

Currently, an estimated 8,000 boat people are abandoned in the ocean and have nowhere to go. How long they can survive with little food, water and medicine? What will happen to them in the uncertain ocean? Death is on their way. They have already been more than two months in the ocean. They are starving and dehydrated and sick. There are large numbers of women and children in the boats.

From January to March 2015, an estimated 25,000 ethnic Rohingya and Bangladeshi became boat people. Thousands more ethnic Rohingyas will flee the country if Myanmar does not stop the prosecution on ethnic Rohingyas and recognise Rohingyas as citizens by law.

If ASEAN and the United Nations fail to resolve the Rohingya plight with Myanmar, the world will continue to see Rohingya boat people who risk their lives to seek refuge in other countries. It will become a catastrophe that the world cannot forget.

Boat People 2 We are very frustrated with the UN Human Rights Commissioner (UNHCR) as they are keeping quiet at this very critical time. Human lives are at risk but UNHCR remains quiet. We are talking about asylum seekers who are persons of concerns to UNHCR but what are they doing?UNHCR must play a vital role in the whole issue of Rohingya. We cannot see the role of UNHCR except renewing the UNHCR cards held by refugees as they are no longer registering newly-arrived Rohingya asylum seekers.

Boat People 3 Don’t we have the feeling to make a search and rescue first and later decide on how to resolve the issue? Don’t we have the feeling that lives must be saved first before we decide on the rest? Do we feel these boat people lives are very cheap and valueless? Don’t we have the feeling to see babies, children, women and elderly suffers along their way to seek refuge in other place? Don’t we realise how dangerous the way that they had gone through for the sake of their lives?We thank very much the Kelab Putra Satu Malaysia who have come forward to help the newly-arrived Rohingya asylum seekers. We really appreciate what you have done to help us since the conflict in 2012 in our country. We continuously look for your love and support for us.

We heard some people suggesting that aid be sent to the boat people in the ocean. This is a temporary help to them, but we cannot be sending food and water to them every day, for how long? A solution must be found.

Do we wait to search for dead bodies?

We do not know if these boats still have petrol. If the petrol is finished we do not know where they will arrive and how far they can go. Can we just wait and see what will happen to them? Do we wait to search for their dead bodies after their boats have sunk in the ocean? We appeal to ASEAN and other countries such as Australia to initiate search and rescue mission.

Boat People 4 Some ASEAN countries including Malaysia have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These two conventions apply regardless of nationality and immigration status. Therefore we urge the Malaysia and other ASEAN countries to give immediate protection to asylum seekers, especially women and children, as they are vulnerable.

We urge the ASEAN governments to ensure that that the boat people are rescued and be given treatment first before they die. Meanwhile, the ASEAN governments and the United Nations must meet immediately to find solutions to the Rohingya plight. The United Nations and the UNHCR specifically must intervene urgently as this involves the lives of asylum seekers who require international protection.

We hope very much that the Malaysian government will play its role as much as possible as chair of ASEAN  and member of the UN Security Council to help us.

We urge the United States government and other countries to give urgent protection and immediate documentation and resettlement to these victims of human trafficking under the Trafficking in Persons Act.

We urge UNHCR to step in and have a meeting with Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian government for the documentation process by both UNHCR and the respective governments.

We urge the United Nations to play a vital role to stop genocide towards ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar. Economic and political sanctions must be made on Myanmar in order to compel Myanmar to stop the genocide towards ethnic Rohingya who are the most prosecuted ethnic group in the world.

We urge the Myanmar government to come forward and attend the meeting in Bangkok to address the whole longstanding Rohingya plight.

We urge the ASEAN governments to crack down on human trafficking networks. All Agencies in ASEAN must work in a comprehensive framework to stop human trafficking. Stern action must be taken on human traffickers and their networks. In lights of this new development, a comprehensive action plan needs to be developed to curb human trafficking starting from the host country, transit and destination countries.

All ASEAN countries must be involved

We urge Malaysia as the chair of ASEAN to seek a specific meeting to discuss the issue. The meeting must involve all ASEAN countries as Rohingya boat people will arrive not only in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia but also in other ASEAN countries in future. Previously Rohingyas had arrived in Cambodia and Singapore.

We urge ASEAN and the United Nations to continuously pressure the Myanmar government to stop continuous persecution on ethnic Rohingya and recognise Rohingya as citizens under the 1982 Citizenship Law.

The Besieged Malaysia EmperorIn this very critical situation, Merhrom urges the United Nations Security Council, US government, British government, European Union, world leaders, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), ASEAN and other international communities to help.

We hope very much the meeting in Bangkok will find immediate and long-term solutions to the Rohingya plight.


ZAFAR AHMAD ABDUL GHANI is president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom).