Manila sows Asean unease

11 Oct 2016 / Bangkok Post

President Rodrigo Duterte is doing no favours to the Philippines with his ever-changing policies on US relations and military exercises. More to the point, he is damaging long and careful relations within Asean, as well as with all of the group’s neighbours. For several weeks he has threatened to end bilateral and multilateral war games with Washington. The ongoing threats mean policy problems for every friend and neighbour of the Philippines.

It must be noted that Mr Duterte was expected to be in Thailand last weekend to attend the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) summit, but he sent a cabinet minister in his place.

In addition, the Philippines leader is due to make a traditional “getting to know you” visit to each Asean member nation, with Thailand still on his list. Face to face with Thai leaders, he might have better explained his policies than the press reports everyone currently must depend upon.

By those reports, Mr Duterte has threatened to call off Philippines participation in all military exercises scheduled for the country. In addition, he has made threats that he intends to block plans for joint US-Philippines navy patrols through the South China Sea.

While not vital, such patrols would reinforce the sanctity of freedom of the seas. Without US-Philippines patrols, other countries will have to perform the patrols which keep international shipping lanes open.

Mr Duterte’s too-constant harangues over US relations are troubling, since they seem based entirely on personal animosity.

That boils down to a statement by US President Barack Obama in late August that he hoped to discuss Mr Duterte’s bloody and murderous “war on drugs” programme.

More than 3,000 have died and the pogrom against alleged petty drug dealers continues. Mr Duterte was either outraged or feigned outrage that Mr Obama would question his regime’s murders, and turned the tiff into a foreign policy issue with worldwide implications.

China, never a nation to let an opportunity slide, immediately backed the extra-judicial killings of drug dealers and suspects. That is a terribly unfortunate move by Beijing. Read more…

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