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Obama, Duterte affirm alliance

(The Philippine Star) - May 19, 2016 - 12:00am

Rody eyes bilateral talks with China

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – US President Barack Obama became the first head of government to congratulate Rodrigo Duterte, relaying at the same time Washington’s congratulations for the conduct of the May 9 elections.

Obama called Duterte on Tuesday night to congratulate him for winning the presidential race. The two reaffirmed the two countries’ strong alliance.

“I assured him that we will continue with our mutual interests and that we are allied with the Western (world) in this issue on the South China Sea,” Duterte told reporters, saying he was honored to receive the congratulatory call.

He informed Obama of his plan to talk with China in an effort to resolve as soon as possible the maritime dispute.

“If it goes on still waters, I said, if there’s no wind to move the sail, I might opt to go bilateral,” Duterte said.

He added Obama urged him to wait for the result of the arbitration before a United Nations tribunal in The Hague.

In a statement, Washington said Obama noted that the successful election and record voter participation were emblematic of the Philippines’ vibrant democracy.

The White House said Obama highlighted the enduring values that underpin America’s thriving alliance with the Philippines and “the longstanding ties between our two peoples, including our shared commitments to democracy, human rights, rule of law and inclusive economic growth.”

The two leaders affirmed their interest in seeing the relationship continue to grow on the basis of these shared principles.

Obama’s call came ahead of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg’s visit to Duterte anytime this week.

It was Russian Ambassador Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev’s turn to visit Duterte yesterday at the Matina Enclaves Residences in the city. The ambassadors of China, Japan and Israel had earlier paid a courtesy call on the incoming president.

Duterte had a disagreement with Goldberg during the campaign period over the latter’s comment on the outgoing mayor’s controversial remarks about the 1989 rape and killing of a female Australian missionary. He said he was not afraid to sever ties with the US.

In an earlier interview with The STAR, Duterte said he has one thing to ask Goldberg when they meet: “Are you with us?”

Duterte has not entertained any US ambassador since 2002 when Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives whisked away an American-British national on trial in the city for setting off an explosive inside a hotel room.

He has openly declared opposition to the joint Philippine-US Balikatan exercises and refused to allow the use of the old Davao International Airport terminal as a staging point for US drones.

CIA agents snatched Michael Meiring from his hospital room and flew him out of the country on a private jet without coordinating with local authorities. The mayor flew into a rage upon learning of the operation.

No letup on sea claim

Despite China’s optimism for a “fresh start” with the incoming Duterte administration, the Philippines should continue challenging Beijing’s expansionism in the West Philippine Sea while committing to “development diplomacy” with the Asian power at the same time.

Think tank ADR Institute for international Studies (ADRi) and Washington-based partner Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) gave the advice to Duterte as the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague is set to rule in the coming weeks on a case filed by Manila seeking a reaffirmation of its maritime entitlements and contesting Beijing’s nine-dash line position.

“While Asia recognizes that China has long been an important force for economic prosperity and security in the region, there is resistance when Beijing becomes overzealous in asserting this dominance,” said ADRi president Dindo Manhit.

ADRi trustee and CSIS Southeast Asian Studies chairman Ernie Bower said China’s Asian neighbors are worried about China’s changing the rules that have produced nearly seven decades of economic growth and progress as well as relative peace in Asia Pacific.

The think tank said this has put China’s neighbors on edge, making them anxious about advancing their economic engagement through increased trade and investment with China. “They fear that the deeper those ties extend, the more leverage Beijing may use to force sovereign concessions,” he said.

“China will be an influential and positive force for economic prosperity, regional security and peace if it takes time to listen to its neighbors and partners. That is an outcome the rest of the world has a great interest in promoting,” he added.

While challenging China’s expansionism, Manhit said the Duterte administration should vigorously perform routine tasks of foreign service like helping overseas Filipinos. It should also pursue economic security by promoting trade and investment.

He likewise recommended recalibrating the Philippine foreign service to include political and economic reporting, trade promotion and negotiation, and pushing for the passage of the National Security Act, which will lead to a whole-of-government approach to foreign policy and national defense.

Such advocacy is part of the US-Philippines Strategic Initiative jointly launched by ADRi and CSIS in May 2015. – With Jose Katigbak, Iris Gonzales, Alexis Romero

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