Obama and P-Noy – the feeling is mutual
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - April 28, 2014 - 12:00am

Today we welcome the American President to our shores. Our long lost brother is back. The question is – why?

With our present situation and predicament, I think P-Noy has no other choice but to welcome America with open arms. We should eat our pride and face the sad reality that we can’t really handle China all by ourselves. In order to save our interest we need a stronger power to back us up and America is offering exactly what we need at this point in time.

On the other hand, America needs us. Our strategic terrain is the best in Asia. First of all, they have mastered our land and waters. Second, they have existing military structures (former US bases). Third, the Filipinos are like brothers to them more than other Asian countries.

When Filipinos are suspicious of a relationship, we say, there seems to be a “mutual understanding” going on. And this seems to be the description of the relationship we have right now with America. Yup! P-Noy and Obama have some sort of a mutual relationship. Don’t take it literally! This is about two countries obviously liking each other but with no commitment yet, whatsoever.

Today, we will listen to the words of our President. We shall observe how he will welcome President Obama. His words will give us a clue as to what kind of relationship they are about to embark on. On his part, the American President will respond and we shall know his country’s intent in returning to the Philippines.

President Obama has been vocal about his plan to visit the Philippines. In several occasions, his planned trips have been cancelled for one reason or another. I hope he arrives today.  As the saying goes, “if it’s meant to be it will happen.”

A little backgrounder of the American president may help us understand why he is strengthening American ties with East Asia and the Philippines. President Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States of America. He assumed his presidency in 2009 and was re-elected in November 2012. During his term as President, he saw the emergence of China as an economic and military threat to the superpowers of the world and to its Asian neighbors. Obama knew that he needed to build a stronger relationship with China and its neighbors in order to develop and maintain stable relations in the region. In the past, the Sino-American relations have always been characterized as competitive. But both countries have been quite wary of each other. They have been cautious not to disturb that complicated friendship they have created since the late nineteenth century. 

Reports say that in February 2012, during a Washington, D.C., visit, then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping raised the prospect of “a new type of relationship between major countries in the 21st century.” As State Councilor Dai Bingguo said about the concept, “China and the US must create the possibility that countries with different political institutions, cultural traditions and different economic systems can respect and cooperate with each other.”

A year later, President Barak Obama and President Xi Jinping conducted an informal, “shirt-sleeve” summit in southern California to establish a solid working relationship between the two presidents. Then National Security Adviser Tom Donilon described the challenge facing President Obama and President Xi at the summit as “turning the aspiration of charting a new course for our relationship into a reality and to build out… the new model of relations between great powers.”

Since the heat between the two countries has arisen in the past years, Obama needed to “bust a move” (to get with the groove or dance with the music of the times) to avoid being bullied by this growing power in Asia.  Of course, that is without compromising that balance – the yin and the yang. The question is: What role will the Philippines play in his plan? Abangan.

 Truly, it all boils down to money and pride not to mention survival. The United States-China economic and trade relationship is the second largest in the world. To date, the United States has the world’s largest economy while China comes in second. China has the world’s largest population followed by India and third is the United States. How can these two countries fight? Are they BFFs (best of friends)? But how can they be “sincere and honest” with each other?

The United States has existing military bases in Asia particularly in Japan and in South Korea. But in its effort to strengthen its military presence in Asia, the Pentagon is intensifying its military discussions with certain countries in the region. In the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, American ships have been sighted.  United States military presence has been felt through exercises such as the Visiting Forces Agreement. America has reached out and opened their doors to the locals becoming friendlier for easier acceptance of the local folk.

It is clear to Obama that East Asia is crucial to America. And in their “Pivot East Asia” regional strategic planning, Hillary Clinton noted (in 2011) the key areas of actions they need to do in the region: (1) they need to strengthen bilateral security alliances; (2) deepen their working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; and (3) engage with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights.

America’s focus is now on Asia. They have abandoned the Middle East. They are now shifting to clearer skies and blue waters. Asia is the rising star. It is young and vibrant. It is also ambitious. This is just the right time for America to re-enter the scene. For whatever reason, every country in Southeast and East Asia needs good ole Uncle Sam.

As Obama said in his visit to Tokyo, “I think there’s enormous opportunities for trade, development, working on common issues like climate change with China...But what we’ve also emphasized – and I will continue to emphasize throughout this trip – is that all of us have responsibilities to help maintain basic rules of the road and an international order.”

 Let us not be too self-centered. Obama’s visit to the Philippines is part of his Asian tour. He did not come to Asia only to visit the Philippines. Please realize that he and his team are trying to reach out to every small country in the Pacific. America’s interest is not in one country alone in Asia but all countries in this continent. If we do not use our heads properly, we may be left behind again. As it is, our neighbors already know what to do. They seem to have strategically planned the return of Uncle Sam. What about us?


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