Foreign relations
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2017 - 12:00am

For someone who has zero experience in diplomacy, President Duterte has certainly captured the imagination of the world and its leaders. Last week, it was obvious the Japanese Prime Minister was seriously courting PDutz with a charm offensive and an $8.7 billion ODA offer.

The Japanese aid offer matches a similar $9 billion offer from China. Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez was ecstatic as he claimed the Chinese and Japanese offers constitute the highest to be attracted by any new president in history.

 Sec. Sonny also pointed out that the almost $18 billion offers from Japan and China do not include trade deals like the $15-billion private commercial deals between the Philippines and China. There are also projects in the pipeline not included in the package Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced during his visit last week.

It looks like PDutz has successfully enticed China and Japan to compete for his favors. By declaring an independent foreign policy, PDutz got China to do what it does best with its legendary checkbook diplomacy that it practices in Africa. And Japan is not about to allow China to overshadow its economic and political influence in the Philippines. 

China has the ulterior motive of trying to get the Philippines to moderate its stance in the problematic South China Sea situation. China wants us to be part of its Silk Road strategy of developing trade, economic and political influence in countries from our region all the way to Europe. 

Japan, like us also with an active dispute with China over islands, is anxious to retain the Philippines as an important ally. Japan has donated patrol boats to beef up our inadequately equipped Coast Guard and Navy. Japan is also our largest trading partner. 

Assuming the Duterte administration is able to fully utilize the close to P1 trillion in ODA from the two countries, it should have a lot to show in its effort to produce a golden age of infrastructure. Hopefully, they are able to minimize, if not eliminate, corruption in project implementation and are able to make the donor countries agree to our priorities rather than theirs because we are paying for all these ODA loans in the end. 

Foreign relations had never really been seen and strategized in the way PDutz has during his first six months. Mr. Duterte does not see diplomacy the way the highly educated and skilled in the politics of nations see it. 

PDutz sees foreign relations as a way of advancing the country’s economic agenda first and foremost. This pragmatic approach is welcome.  

But Mr. Duterte should be careful he does not get caught in the predatory webs of regional powers as they advance their economic and political dominance. An independent foreign policy is more than a declaration. It is also difficult to maintain, specially after we have received their money. 

Getting into the sphere of influence of one or the other can get us entangled with regional politics that could be as constricting as our special relations with the United States had been. Neither China nor Japan nor any foreign power is giving us ODA because of sheer altruism. 

Those billions of dollars are designed to serve the interest of the donor country. There are always strings attached. Duterte’s officials must make sure the strings don’t tie us down in ways that are ultimately against our long term interests.

An independent foreign policy shouldn’t mean going against old allies and friends like the US and Europe. An independent foreign policy must be addition rather than subtraction. 

Why should we, for instance, give up GSP plus privileges for our exports to Europe? Nor should we give up US financial support given through the Millennial Challenge. 

Our people must also be comfortable with the countries behind those large ODAs. A Pulse Asia survey, conducted from Dec. 6 to 11, 2016, showed the US and Japan both scored high majority trust ratings of 76 and 70 percent, respectively, among 1,200 respondents. 

This was the majority sentiment in all geographic areas (ranging from 69 percent to 83 percent for the US and 58 percent to 76 percent for Japan) and socio-economic classes (74 percent to 82 percent and 62 to 83 percent, respectively). Distrust in the US and Japan was expressed by 23 and 29 percent of Filipinos, respectively, while only one percent of respondents were undecided. 

On the other hand, more than half of Filipinos in most geographic areas and socio-economic groupings expressed distrust of China (61 percent). High distrust was also recorded for Russia (58 percent) and Great Britain (55 percent). 

“Majorities in most geographic areas (53 percent to 68 percent) and all socio-economic groupings (52 percent to 62 percent) distrust Great Britain, while the majority sentiment in Metro Manila is one of trust (55 percent).” 

There was nothing surprising with the survey results. Duterte may not like the United States, or at least, the Obama-led United States. But Pinoys love the US. And Duterte may change his view after Donald Trump takes over this Friday. 

What I found surprising was the high negative rating of Great Britain. I have always looked at the US and Great Britain as conjoined twins. But why would Pinoys, specially in the middle and lower socio-economic classes, dislike the British? 

For one thing, we have a sizeable number of Filipino nurses working in British hospitals. It should be easier for them to assimilate and like British society than they would Saudi Arabia’s and other Middle Eastern countries. When I last visited, I found a good number of Filipinos working in London hotels too. Surely, they must have transmitted good vibes to their relatives back home. 

But that’s the thing. I guess that negative rating could have emanated from what Filipinos in Britain feedback to relatives and friends back home. Or maybe too, the British Ambassador in Manila had not been that effective. 

I have lost track of the British Ambassador about two ambassadors ago. I used to have opportunities to exchange views with past ambassadors and attend the celebration of the Queen’s birthday. Maybe the current one is not as outgoing. 

Or maybe he is exerting all his efforts selling British export products and not doing as much on the people-to-people side of his work. And there was that British school case where the British embassy helped the expat teacher leave the country before investigation on a student’s death was concluded. Anyway, Britain is not that important to us in comparison to China, Japan and the United States. 

And forget Russia. But Duterte is set to visit Moscow in April. He has also repeatedly said he would buy firearms and weapons from Russia. I suspect that’s just to show Americans how pissed he is after a US arms sale was blocked in reaction to his human rights record. 

President Duterte must have the best and the brightest of our diplomats and economic experts working on enhancing our ties with China, Japan and the US. Our economy depends a lot on keeping our political ties with these three countries at the best possible level. 

The other thing President Duterte did right is giving our ASEAN regional ties his top attention by visiting the top ASEAN capitals. He himself said that there was a lot to learn from our neighbors. He told one interviewer that he felt bad after seeing how far our neighbors have advanced compared to us. 

I imagine PDutz didn’t travel abroad as much as he has been doing in recent months. Staying cocooned in Davao before he was elected president didn’t prepare him to see how far we have been left behind. Now, he has a basis by which to set the bar of performance for his administration specially in infrastructure development. 

Even if his foreign secretary is, like him, also a novice in diplomacy, President Duterte is so far doing rather well. Some foreign policy goals will take time to achieve, but the directions he has set should contribute significantly to the country’s development. 

And yes, Duterte is top of mind in world capitals. It may not be for things we can all be proud of, but at least he has caught the world’s attention. Imagine if he can somehow change the narrative on human rights and add to that some solid accomplishments on the economy… 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco 



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