Hillary Clinton

Whither the Philippines in 2020?

As America “pivots” towards Asia where the future economic centre of gravity of the world will be, how big or small a role will the Philippines play in this the Pacific Century?

Source of image: taiwandocuments.org

Jim O’Neill the man from Goldman Sachs responsible for the acronym BRICs (which stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China) in a forthcoming book feels all the more convinced as ever of the accuracy of his predictions ten years ago when he first coined it to describe the growth potential of emerging markets. His sense of vindication for what he now characterises as his “conservative” estimates comes from the fact that in his words,

The world economy has doubled in size since 2001, and a third of that growth has come from the BRICs. Their combined GDP increase was more than twice that of the United States and it was equivalent to the creation of another new Japan plus one Germany, or five United Kingdoms, in the space of a single decade.

At this rate, China will be on track to surpass the United States as the world’s biggest economy by 2027, according to O’Neill, beating the earlier estimate of 2035. Predicting when this will happen has become an interesting past-time of analysts of late, which is why The Economist whose own projections for a 2019 year of reckoning made available the following interactive chart where you can play around with the assumptions and do-it-yourself  by entering them in the assigned fields (see below).

As Secretary Clinton has put it

The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas, the region spans two oceans — the Pacific and the Indian — that are increasingly linked by shipping and strategy. It boasts almost half the world’s population. It includes many of the key engines of the global economy, as well as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. It is home to several of our key allies and important emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia.

In his address to the Australian parliament, President Obama welcomed the rise of a peaceful China stating that

Together, I believe we can address shared challenges, such as (nuclear) proliferation and maritime security, including cooperation in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, the United States will continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China.
…We will do this, even as we continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people.
A secure and peaceful Asia is the foundation for the second area in which America is leading again – and that’s advancing our shared prosperity.

A constant theme in that speech which effectively marked the “pivot point” to the East was America’s adherence to the rule of law to govern international relations in security and economic terms, as well as its championing of open democracies and free markets in the region. In both cases, Obama was at his professorial best when he promoted the concept of rules based trading in commerce and politics.

His speech writers could be said to channel F.A. Hayek the founder of contemporary libertarianism who said that, “Only the existence of common rules makes the peaceful existence of individuals in society possible.

This is consistent with America’s constitutional belief in universal principles. Prof Obama was also acting like Dr King, in that he was delivering a sermon. He may have seemed in Australia to be “preaching to the choir” but his real intended audience was not in Canberra, but Beijing. In Bali, he got to exchange a few constructive words with his Chinese counterpart. Much to the Philippine delegation’s dismay, the US defence posture in the region is not meant to intimidate the rising power of China into submission over the South China Sea issue.

Back home, President Aquino had another axe of sorts to grind with the placing of his predecessor Gloria Arroyo under hospital detention following her indictment for election fraud. This followed a week of controversy involving her attempted departure from the country to seek medical treatment following a Supreme Court decision to temporarily lift the Department of Justice’s hold departure order on her, a decision that was not accepted by the said department.

All of this puts into context, the question of where will the Philippines be in 2020? Will the Philippines be a prosperous democratic country governed by the rule of law? Or will it still be struggling to achieve this ideal that the US president spoke of so eloquently?

Today, the hot topic in Manila among political commentators is whether the action taken by the Aquino government to prevent Mrs Arroyo from leaving was in accordance with the rule of law. On the side of those who say yes is Randy David who believes what we have now is a “rule of justices” not a bona fide rule of law thanks to the lady at the centre of the controversy. On the side of naysayers is Solita Monsod who believes the speed with which the investigation was conducted points once again to the politicisation of the process. Both make reasoned arguments in support of their views.

The president convinced of the justness of his actions and mindful of his constituents exhorted his countrymen to “not waver.” He said that

We are all working for a new Philippines, one where there is equality, where whoever does wrong, whatever his status in life may be, is punished, a country where justice rules.

Whatever the position either camp holds in this debate, all will agree that prosecuting the Arroyos has been quite a messy undertaking, much like the way President Joseph Estrada was deposed from office. The legality of it will be questioned and the merits of it will be argued for years to come in the court of public opinion.

Incidentally, 2011 is also the tenth year since Estrada’s ouster. Back in 2001, Mr Estrada will argue, the country’s elites conspired to bring a sitting and democratically elected president down by extra-constitutional means. Today, it has been argued that one faction of the elite has manipulated the legal system to jail the head of another.

In all this time, has the country progressed towards becoming a stable more prosperous country? To the analysts, the country’s growth rate over the last ten years has proven their rosy forecasts right. They will say that we are on track both demographically and economically to be a force to reckon with by 2020 and beyond.

To the “insiders” the same old problems of social inequity still prevails. One set of rules still seems to apply to one class of people, and another applies to the rest. To the administration and its followers, the Arroyos have become totemic of this system. To them successfully prosecuting and sending her swiftly to jail would prove once and for all that only one system of justice prevails in the country.

To the realists, the application of justice over the course of the next ten years will largely depend on who sits in power. By 2020, a certain boxer-legislator who happened to be one of GMA’s strongest endorsers believes he will be a strong contender for the Palace in 2022. By then he would have tucked a few billion pesos under his belt and followed a path set before by the populist Erap Estrada.

Should the reforms espoused by the current seat warmers of Malacañang not take route in the next five years the political pendulum could swing the other way and a revival of patronage-based populism with a new face could rise to replace the torch-bearers of our current elite democracy.

Similarly, China could match the US pound-for-pound in their rivalry for regional dominance. The Beijing Consensus might by then trump the Washington version. A different model for prosperity might be in play making the need for establishing common rules seem rather (how shall we put it?…) academic.

They’re Baaaaaaack!

The APEC summit in Hawaii (photo courtesy of UPI.com)

In uncharacteristically blunt language, US President Obama as host of the APEC summit in Hawaii called on China to act like a “grown up” saying “enough is enough” and that it was time for the People’s Republic to “operate by the same rules that everybody operates” threatening dire consequences unless the yuan appreciates by 20-25%.

The US has been pressing China to allow its currency the yuan to appreciate more quickly to make American products more affordable to Chinese residents and similarly make Chinese exports less attractive to US based consumers. President Hu’s pragmatic response–allow imports to rise without necessarily liberalizing the currency exchange regime–is typical of the Middle Kingdom.

Unlike America’s faith in free markets, China would rather deliberately get prices wrong if it would allow it to maintain a healthy trade surplus with the US. This after all was the same path to development that the US took when it was still in its “catch-up” phase with Western Europe.

Yet America, with its penchant for universal principles (“we hold these truths to be self-evident”) is now in the game of preaching free trade, open markets and property rights in the Far East just as it preached democracy in the Middle East. China is instinctually groping for a particularistic response. Although sounding undiplomatic, I like Pres Obama’s rhetoric because it gave away an important concession in the development debate.

“Gaming the system” or the notion of applying the tools of industrial policy to generate a competitive advantage for nascent industries in global trade as a legitimate means to catch-up with more advanced economies while a country is still relatively underdeveloped has been acknowledged. In the local vernacular, “saling pusa” which refers to little children allowed to participate in a game without having the same rules applied to them would be the way America views the Chinese.

For those who believe that lowering trade barriers helps promote growth, the following graph taken from Dani Rodrik’s paper to the UN should help dispel that notion. It shows a positive albeit insignificant correlation between tariff levels and economic growth. At best, no correlation can be inferred between lowering barriers to trade and growth, which is why the Philippines despite having very low tariffs relative to its ASEAN neighbors, has not been growing strongly. As I mentioned in my last piece, higher barriers to entry actually have been found to induce domestic innovation that in turn leads to new exports.

Source: Dani Rodrik (2001), The Global Governance of Trade--As If Development Really Mattered: A UNDP Background Paper

This should help comfort those distressed by that CNBC press release that the Philippines is the worst place for doing business in Asia. It should also be noted that in their top ten worst places, India and Indonesia were included. If these are the sorts of countries that we are in league with, then we really should not be too bothered.

Despite that dubious title, one should actually pay attention to the fact that the CNBC pronouncement was based on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. Many of the measures in this report simply do not apply to businesses within the special economic zones which is more relevant to foreign investors. Furthermore, petty corruption actually allows many of the so-called barriers for entry to be removed.

The main roadblock to foreign direct investments is actually the desire of business to operate with the same protection of contracts and property rights wherever they are along with low costs to entry without the necessary tax burden and industrial labor costs that are needed to foster this. On the other hand, ordinary citizens that politicians seeking re-election (as in the case of Obama) try to please don’t want unfair competition for their labor from less developed countries which try to create a system of arbitrage to attract foreign investors.

It isn’t that investors want a level playing field. Consumers by and large don’t really mind whether a producer competes fairly for a slice of their hip pocket. That means for a country seeking to attract foreign investors increasingly ceding a lot of its national policy-making abilities to Western bodies and institutions to gain access to its markets. Hence the rhetoric of Obama who is trying to create a narrative that would pit the economies in the region against China.

Having ceded the scene for the better part of a decade to Beijing which has forged a free trade deal with ASEAN (CAFTA, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area), Washington is trying to regain the initiative with its Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that boasts the commitment of nine APEC countries and counting. China has objected to not being invited to join the agreement. This is clearly a bid by the US to isolate it and strengthen its economic clout in the region.

This week, as he travels en route to the East Asia summit in Bali, Indonesia, the US president is scheduled to make a stopover in Canberra to address the Australian parliament and sign a deal that would increase US troop presence in a base located near Darwin. The two nations have already beefed up the ANZUS mutual defense treaty by allowing allies to invoke it in the case of cyber attacks just as it was used in justifying Australian participation in the US war against terror.

This posturing is clearly aimed at containing Chinese ambitions in the region. America is trying to prevent Australia and its other allies (Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines) from following in the footsteps of Germany which has been compromised as a NATO ally due to its economy’s dependence on exports to China. Australia sees the need to boost its military capability to help counter the military build-up of China while relying on iron ore exports to China for sustaining health in its economy. Other countries in the region notably Vietnam and the Philippines will seek protection under the US security umbrella given tensions with China over the Spratlys.

PM Julia Gillard earlier this year commissioned her own white paper that would create a strategic road map for Australia in the “Asian century.” Upon her return to Australia, she announced a new position on uranium exports to India, the other emerging power in the region. This back-flip on her party’s existing position to maintain a ban until India signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty occurred after a meeting with President Obama .

Meanwhile State secretary Hilary Clinton is set to travel through Bangkok and Manila en route to Bali. She will no doubt seek to emphasize the theme that America is back in business in the region. P-Noy has been keen to float his own ideas about a solution to the Spratlys among allies, but membership in the TPP is very much in doubt as certain hurdles including constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership and weak protection of intellectual property rights prevent the Philippines from being admitted.

This means that the Philippines will engage in free trade with China via CAFTA, while having a military alliance with the US. This is probably the best possible outcome–a good way to counter-balance each competing force on either side of the Pacific. Australian PM Julia Gillard put it best when she said this week,

It is well and truly possible for us in this growing region of the world to have an ally in the US and to have deep friendships in our region including with China.

But for how long this formula will work only time will tell.

The Libyan War of 2011

By George Friedman

The Libyan war has now begun. It pits a coalition of European powers plus the United States, a handful of Arab states and rebels in Libya against the Libyan government. The long-term goal, unspoken but well understood, is regime change — displacing the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and replacing it with a new regime built around the rebels.

The mission is clearer than the strategy, and that strategy can’t be figured out from the first moves. The strategy might be the imposition of a no-fly zone, the imposition of a no-fly zone and attacks against Libya’s command-and-control centers, or these two plus direct ground attacks on Gadhafi’s forces. These could also be combined with an invasion and occupation of Libya.

The question, therefore, is not the mission but the strategy to be pursued. How far is the coalition, or at least some of its members, prepared to go to effect regime change and manage the consequences following regime change? How many resources are they prepared to provide and how long are they prepared to fight? It should be remembered that in Iraq and Afghanistan the occupation became the heart of the war, and regime change was merely the opening act. It is possible that the coalition partners haven’t decided on the strategy yet, or may not be in agreement. Let’s therefore consider the first phases of the war, regardless of how far they are prepared to go in pursuit of the mission.

Like previous wars since 1991, this war began with a very public buildup in which the coalition partners negotiated the basic framework, sought international support and authorization from multinational organizations and mobilized forces. This was done quite publicly because the cost of secrecy (time and possible failure) was not worth what was to be gained: surprise. Surprise matters when the enemy can mobilize resistance. Gadhafi was trapped and has limited military capabilities, so secrecy was unnecessary.

While all this was going on and before final decisions were made, special operations forces were inserted in Libya on two missions. First, to make contact with insurgent forces to prepare them for coming events, create channels of communications and logistics and create a post-war political framework. The second purpose was to identify targets for attack and conduct reconnaissance of those targets that provided as up-to-date information as possible. This, combined with air and space reconnaissance, served as the foundations of the war. We know British SAS operators were in Libya and suspect other countries’ special operations forces and intelligence services were also operating there.

War commences with two sets of attacks. The first attacks are decapitation attacks designed to destroy or isolate the national command structure. These may also include strikes designed to kill leaders such as Gadhafi and his sons or other senior leaders. These attacks depend on specific intelligence on facilities, including communications, planning and so on along with detailed information on the location of the leadership. Attacks on buildings are carried out from the air but not particularly with cruise missile because they are especially accurate if the targets are slow, and buildings aren’t going anywhere. At the same time, aircraft are orbiting out of range of air defenses awaiting information on more mobile targets and if such is forthcoming, they come into range and fire appropriate munitions at the target. The type of aircraft used depends on the robustness of the air defenses, the time available prior to attack and the munitions needed. They can range from conventional fighters or stealth strategic aircraft like the U.S. B-2 bomber (if the United States authorized its use). Special operations forces might be on the ground painting the target for laser-guided munitions, which are highly accurate but require illumination.

At the same time these attacks are under way, attacks on airfields, fuel storage depots and the like are being targeted to ground the Libyan air force. Air or cruise missile attacks are also being carried out on radars of large and immobile surface-to-air (SAM) missile sites. Simultaneously, “wild weasel” aircraft — aircraft configured for the suppression of enemy air defenses — will be on patrol for more mobile SAM systems to locate and destroy. This becomes a critical part of the conflict. Being mobile, detecting these weapons systems on the ground is complex. They engage when they want to, depending on visual perception of opportunities. Therefore the total elimination of anti-missile systems is in part up to the Libyans. Between mobile systems and man-portable air-defense missiles, the threat to allied aircraft can persist for quite a while even if Gadhafi’s forces might have difficulty shooting anything down.

This is the part that the United States in particular and the West in general is extremely good at. But it is the beginning of the war. Gadhafi’s primary capabilities are conventional armor and particularly artillery. Destroying his air force and isolating his forces will not by itself win the war. The war is on the ground. The question is the motivation of his troops: If they perceive that surrender is unacceptable or personally catastrophic, they may continue to fight. At that point the coalition must decide if it intends to engage and destroy Gadhafi’s ground forces from the air. This can be done, but it is never a foregone conclusion that it will work. Moreover, this is the phase at which civilian casualties begin to mount. It is a paradox of warfare instigated to end human suffering that the means of achieving this can sometimes impose substantial human suffering itself. This is not merely a theoretical statement. It is at this point at which supporters of the war who want to end suffering may turn on the political leaders for not ending suffering without cost. It should be remembered that Saddam Hussein was loathed universally but those who loathed him were frequently not willing to impose the price of overthrowing him. The Europeans in particular are sensitive to this issue.

The question then becomes the extent to which this remains an air operation, as Kosovo was, or becomes a ground operation. Kosovo is the ideal, but Gadhafi is not Slobodan Milosevic and he may not feel he has anywhere to go if he surrenders. For him the fight may be existential, whereas for Milosevic it was not. He and his followers may resist. This is the great unknown. The choice here is to maintain air operations for an extended period of time without clear results, or invade. This raises the question of whose troops would invade. Egypt appears ready but there is long animosity between the two countries, and its actions might not be viewed as liberation. The Europeans could do so. It is difficult to imagine Obama adopting a third war in Muslim world as his own. This is where the coalition is really tested.

If there is an invasion, it is likely to succeed. The question then becomes whether Gadhafi’s forces move into opposition and insurgency. This again depends on morale but also on behavior. The Americans forced an insurgency in Iraq by putting the Baathists into an untenable position. In Afghanistan the Taliban gave up formal power without having been decisively defeated. They regrouped, reformed and returned. It is not known to us what Gadhafi can do or not do. It is clear that it is the major unknown.

The problem in Iraq was not the special operations forces. It was not in the decapitation strikes or suppression of enemy air defenses. It was not in the defeat of the Iraqi army on the ground. It was in the occupation, when the enemy reformed and imposed an insurgency on the United States that it found extraordinarily difficult to deal with.

Therefore the successes of the coming day will tell us nothing. Even if Gadhafi surrenders or is killed, even if no invasion is necessary save a small occupation force to aid the insurgents, the possibility of an insurgency is there. We will not know if there will be an insurgency until after it begins. Therefore, the only thing that would be surprising about this phase of the operation is if it failed.

The decision has been made that the mission is regime change in Libya. The strategic sequence is the routine buildup to war since 1991, this time with a heavier European component. The early days will go extremely well but will not define whether or not the war is successful. The test will come if a war designed to stop human suffering begins to inflict human suffering. That is when the difficult political decisions have to be made and when we will find out whether the strategy, the mission and the political will fully match up.

The Libyan War of 2011,” is republished with permission from STRATFOR.

# # #

Editor’s note: The New York Times published, “U.S. Missiles Strike Libyan Air-Defense targets.”

Analysis: Assessing Hillary Clinton's latest speech on internet freedom

In a major speech on internet freedom, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton haswarned governments not to restrict online liberty, while saying she opposed confidential leaks. This comes in the midst of uprising and protest in Middle Eastern countries, and as the US attempts to gain access to Wikileaks members’ Twitter accounts. Index on Censorship consulted a number of experts for their verdict. Watch and read the full speech here.

Rebecca MacKinnon,  co-founder Global Voices Online; Bernard Schwartz Senior Fellow, New America Foundation; expert on Chinese internet censorship

I applaud the Secretary’s strong commitment to the idea that internet and telecommunications companies must uphold core and universal rights of free expression and privacy. It was also very important that Clinton reiterated US support for multi-stakeholder internet governance.

I also agree that “there is no silver bullet” or “app” for internet freedom. There is no one set of tools that will magically and easily free people living in authoritarian societies from oppression. She was right to emphasise that people cause revolutions, not technology — though smart use of technology certainly helps.

Read Rebecca MacKinnon’s full analysis here

The full list of Index’s analysis is here.

The 2nd ASEAN-U.S. Summit: What’s on the Menu in Manhattan?

The 2nd ASEAN-U.S. Summit: What’s on the Menu in Manhattan?
By Ernest Bower, Director, South East Asia Program-CSIS


President Barack Obama will host 8 of the 10 leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—in New York City on Friday, September 24, at the second U.S.-ASEAN Summit. The meeting underlines renewed U.S. policy energy being invested in Southeast Asia. Headlines from the discussion will likely focus on three areas:

1. Security alignment—including restatement of a common position on the South China Sea;

2. Economic growth and trade—particularly ASEAN’s leaders are seeking an update from Obama on the health of the U.S. economy and a read on whether the mid-term U.S. congressional elections might be an inflection point after which the United States can return to a proactive posture on trade; and

3. Burma—specifically exploring how the United States and ASEAN can encourage Burma’s leaders to create political space in the November elections and beyond.

The fact that the meeting is taking place in September in the United States is important in that it institutionalizes renewed U.S. engagement in ASEAN ahead of key steps forward in creating new regional security and trade architecture in Asia.

On the other hand, the fact that the summit is taking place in New York, not Washington, and without the leader of ASEAN’s largest country and economy, Indonesia, underlines the fact that while the policy intent is clearly substantive engagement, there is still much work to be done to align the United States and ASEAN.

Despite the best intentions of the principals, the meeting will certainly be viewed through the prism of perceived increased tension between China and its Asian neighbors, particularly related to disputed maritime territories.

Q1: Who is meeting and what is the agenda?

A1: President Obama will host the summit over lunch at a hotel in New York City from 12 noon to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, September 24. Eight of the 10 ASEAN leaders are confirmed to join him, except for President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Prime Minister Thein Sein of Burma. The ASEAN secretary general, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, will also join the meeting. The only surprise is Yudhoyono’s absence, and that is significant (see below). The Burmese were not expected to send their head of state due to poor relations with the United States and the sanctions regime currently in place. Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono will be represented by Vice President Boediono, and Burma’s Prime Minister Thein Sein will be represented by Foreign Minister U Nyan Win. The leaders will be accompanied in most cases by their ministers of foreign affairs, ambassadors to the United States and/or the United Nations, and other senior officials.

Q2: Why isn’t President Yudhoyono attending, and what are the implications of his absence?

A2: President Yudhuyono notified the White House that he could not accept President Obama’s invitation to come to New York due to domestic issues in Jakarta. Insiders confirm that Yudhoyono decided he could not come to New York because of a confluence of issues—including the fact that Obama has had to postpone planned travel to Indonesia three times since taking office and the short notice given by the White House (not quite a month in advance of the meeting). Had the summit been held in Washington, D.C., and in early October, so Yudhoyono and the other ASEAN leaders could have come on either side of their long planned visit to Brussels for the Asia-Europe Summit, the Indonesian leader would probably have come.

Yudhoyono’s absence sends a strong signal that although the U.S.-ASEAN relationship is moving in the right direction, there is work still to be done to improve alignment. Indonesia is ASEAN’s largest country and has the largest economy, both more than twice the size of the next member. It is also ASEAN’s incoming chairman for 2011. It is likely that the United States and ASEAN will get back on track next year when Indonesia hosts the third U.S.-ASEAN Summit, and after President Obama finally is able to make his long-awaited visit to Indonesia. There are quiet plans for him to visit Jakarta during his Asia trip after U.S. mid-term elections in November. That trip would include India, Indonesia, Korea for the G-20 Summit, and Japan for the APEC Leaders Summit. In sum, Yudhoyono’s absence doesn’t fully diminish the importance of the meeting in New York on Friday, but it lays down the marker that the U.S.-ASEAN relationship is trending well, but remains a work in progress. (I explore the gap between U.S. policy intentions toward ASEAN and the realities of domestic politics revealed by Yudhoyono’s absence from New York on the CSIS Southeast Asia policy blog. Click here for the article.)

Q3: What is the on the security agenda and will the South China Sea be a focus?

A3: The United States and ASEAN are working with other countries, including Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Russia, to create new regional security architecture in Asia. To this end, the United States and Russia will be invited to join the East Asia Summit (EAS) this October during its meeting in Hanoi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent the United States at the meeting and accept the invitation. The United States will then ideally be represented by President Obama at the next EAS hosted by Indonesia in 2011 (it is likely that the U.S.-ASEAN Summit will be held in proximity). As part of its calculus in deciding to join the EAS, the United States recognized that it must strengthen its security and political ties with ASEAN and invest in supporting ASEAN’s self-defined goals to firm up its foundation through economic, political, and socioeconomic integration, as outlined in the ASEAN Charter. To this end, the United States has been moving to normalize military ties with Indonesia and to enhance military relations with Vietnam, as well as committing to join the ASEAN Defense Minister Meeting + 8 (which includes the same countries listed above who are/will be members of the EAS).

In this context, one of the existential challenges for Asia is to create structures and use diplomacy to encourage China’s peaceful rise as a major world power. The South China Sea represents a major challenge in this process. China has been very effective in its “charm offensive,” begun during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, writing a script as an engaged and committed neighbor promising economic dynamism through expanded trade and investment and regional economic integration. However, China’s geopolitical interests are the other side of that coin. China’s definition of its “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea, in response to Secretary of State Clinton’s reiteration of long-standing U.S. goals for maritime dispute resolution and freedom of navigation in the area based on international law and a multilateral approach, has uncovered atavistic anxieties about China’s intentions among the Southeast Asian countries. Therefore, ASEAN has welcomed a strong U.S. voice on security concerns in the South China Sea, and this has come at a time—ahead of a Chinese political cycle that will identify the country’s next generation of leaders in 2012—of heightened nationalism in China.

Neither the United States nor ASEAN wants to provoke Chinese nationalists, but both recognize the importance of being firm and sustaining a commitment to a multilateral approach to dispute resolution. Therefore, it is likely that the summit in New York will result in a joint statement that addresses the issue by reiterating the intent and direction of Secretary Clinton’s remarks at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi with a focus on China.

Q4: How about economic growth and trade?

A4: ASEAN is concerned about the health and direction of the U.S. economy and hopes that President Obama can assure them that a recovery is underway and that he will be able to move the United States toward a more proactive posture on trade after the U.S. mid-term elections in November. These issues are fundamentally important to ASEAN because the United States is its largest overseas market (particularly when you consider the fact that many ASEAN exports go through China as part of a supply chain that ends up with products delivered to the United States), and because the United States remains one of the top and qualitatively most valuable sources of investment and technology for the region. ASEAN is collectively the most trade dependent formal grouping of nations in the world, with trade accounting for nearly 100 percent of aggregate gross domestic product. So if trade stagnates, ASEAN is the global canary in the coal mine and it suffers first and most significantly.

ASEAN will be watching the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement closely as the benchmark indicator for whether Obama will use the political chits necessary to kick-start trade and make the case to Americans that long-term recovery is dependent on U.S. engagement in ASEAN, Asia, and the world. ASEAN is the United States’ fourth-largest overseas market and one that promises high-level growth for the coming years. ASEAN wants to know if the mid-term elections will be an inflection point for the U.S. stance on global trade. (Read more on the disconnect between policy and politics on trade with ASEAN in cogitASIA )

Q5: What about Burma?

A5: With Burmese elections coming up on November 7, Burma is sure to be high on the summit agenda—at least for the Unites States. While ASEAN would prefer not to have to carry the weight of Burma’s cloistered and intransigent military junta, it recognizes that having made the commitment to bring Burma into its membership it must work with the United States and others to try to encourage the creation of political space there. The Obama administration deserves credit for its courage and foresight in espousing an engagement strategy toward Burma that allowed it to reengage with ASEAN and hold meetings such as this summit. While the engagement has not produced results in Burma, the United States has changed its paradigm with ASEAN. The administration can and likely will tighten sanctions on Burma by focusing on its leaders, their families, and companies they are associated with—measures outlined in the Lantos Act. ASEAN needs to do its part and increase its normative focus on Burma to pressure the regime to create more political openness so it can truly engage in the core elements of integration defined in the ASEAN Charter. If ASEAN begins to focus on Burma, pressure may increase on China and India to refocus their current mercantilist and military policies that enable the hard-line domestic political stance of the junta and to play a role as responsible stakeholders encouraging positive change in the country.

Q6: What next?

A6: ASEAN hopes that President Obama will announce his candidate as the first U.S. ambassador to ASEAN to be resident in Jakarta. A candidate’s name is reportedly pending review and due diligence, though it is not likely that name can be announced on Friday. Additionally, the United States and ASEAN are expecting to name an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to provide guidance and leadership for the relationship. These names have also not been announced yet.

After the New York summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in visiting Hanoi for the EAS, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will visit Vietnam for the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting + 8. President Obama is planning to visit Indonesia in November as mentioned above.


Ernest Bower is a senior adviser and director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

Obama concerned about failed RP polls: ex-US official

Obama concerned about failed RP polls: ex-US official

MANILA, Philippines – The US government is concerned about alleged efforts to extend the term of the Arroyo administration through different failure of elections scenarios, a former US State department official said.

In an interview over ANC’s The Rundown on Wednesday, W. Scott Thompson said the US government is keeping its eyes and ears on how the May elections will be conducted. He said there are consequences if the process or the outcome of the elections is tainted.

“Now, they (Washington officials) are listening. Yes, they are aware that (failure of elections) might happen. There are awful lots of people warning them about it, and they might just make the difference,” Thompson said Wednesday evening.

He criticized former US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney for painting an overly optimistic picture of the Philippines. He said the new Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. and other Washington officials have been getting a clearer political picture just recently.

The May elections in the Philippines, a key ally of the US in Asia, has caught the attention of Washington after political tensions in neighboring Thailand erupted.

“The immediate reason is what’s happening in Thailand,” Thompson said. “That is making the Philippines 10 times as important. That (Thailand) was a very secure, calm ally. Now it is going to pieces.”

The political crisis in Thailand has deteriorated as Bangkok’s ruling elite is pitted against working class groups. The red-clad movement’s continuous call for elections through street protests has claimed 15 lives and is shaking the confidence in the region as a whole.

Thompson is professor emeritus of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Tufts University. He served the Ford and Reagan administrations. He used to be a Manila resident.


Various scenarios—from failure of elections, to military juntas, to other schemes to extend the term of President Arroyo beyond 2010—have been floated. The warnings have come from the likes of former security adviser Jose Almonte, former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., and former President Fidel V. Ramos.

“We’re waiting to see if the process is orderly,” he said. “I think it (Washington) has made clear now (to the Arroyo administration) that it is committed to a fair, orderly election process. If that doesn’t happen, then there are consequences.”

Washington, the political capital of the US, can send different signals to the Arroyo administration if the Philippine elections is not clean, Thompson stressed.

“The various elements we know she (President Arroyo) has put in place – the Supreme Court justices, the [PMA] Class of ’78 (Philippine military), etcetera – are ready. If she tries to steal or otherwise postpone the elections, then something can happen from outside,” he noted.

Washington has already sent signals to the Arroyo administration, according to Thompson. He cited how worried President Arroyo has been on the possible judicial reviews of her previous actions after she is no longer president by June 2010. “Officials in Washington might might have something to do with that.”

He said signals of the power relationship between the two countries can be checked through the goings on at the political capitals, Washington and Manila.

“Historically, the power relationship is always played out in the bigger country’s capital, in this case Washington, not here (in Manila),” he explained.

He said the US government has various ways to show its displeasure. “You can recall your ambassador, or send ambassador in (to Washington) for a chat. The first thing that the Secretary of State or Assistant Secretary would do is invite your ambassador. “

“If that doesn’t play out, you can recall your ambassador, slow down aid flows, make speeches. You can warn the President that there are things that might happen.”

Kenny’s failure

The Obama administration has been taken by surprise by the failure-of-elections scenarios because the former US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney painted an overly optimistic picture of the country under President Arroyo, said Thompson.

He said it was only in the recent months that the Obama administration has been taking a long look at the Philippines, and the picture they are getting is different from Kenny’s reports.

“For the past 3 years, the (US) embassy (in the Philippines) was sending the official message (to Washington) that there is no problem here. It’s like someone in Washington (was) saying in September 2001 ‘Oh what a beautiful month this is,’” he said sarcastically.

“She (Kenney) just didn’t get it. The embassy is just out of touch with the reality here,” he criticized.

He shared that, according to his friends in Washington, Kenney did not listen to her own staff, including opposition groups in Manila. “She had only two sources: GMA (President Arroyo) and (Executive) Secretary (Eduardo) Ermita.”

He criticized Kenny’s efforts to endear herself to the Filipinos by going to fiestas, dancing in entertainment shows on TV, and being a staple in basketball games and tennis matches.

“She was not listening to what was going, which is a diplomat’s first function,” he stressed.

It is only recently that Washington is discovering the political issues in Manila because “they sent
a much higher ranking ambassador and who is more senior than the one here in the past 3 years.”

New, tougher envoy

Thompson expressed confidence in Harry Thomas Jr,, the new US ambassador who replaced Kenney. US President Obama appointed the new envoy to the Philippines last November.

“He’s a tough guy. Has been in Bangladesh, not in tiny Ecuador like Kristie (Kenney). He has ran the biggest foreign service officers show in Washington. I think we should take him seriously,” he said of Thomas.

Thomas is a former Director General of the United States Foreign Service, executive secretary of the US State Department, director of the Department’s Operations Center, and special assistant to former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Aside from Bangladesh, his previous postings include India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Peru.

Thompson said Thomas has the ears of key officials in Washington, and has already sent the message that failure-of-election scenarios are being mulled here.

Thompson said the new envoy will do things differently to continue getting a clearer political picture. “In the first place, there will be more distancing between the (US) embassy and Malacañang. None of the intimacy that you saw in the couple of years.”

‘Obama doesn’t like Arroyo’

Thompson said US President Obama does not like President Arroyo.

“I think he (Obama) doesn’t like her (Arroyo),” he candidly told The Rundown. “(His dislike is) not personal. I think he knows what she’s been up to.”

His basis? “That’s what my friends at high levels have told me. (Another is from) reading his body language with her.”

He gave an example: “His failure to acknowledge her presence on various occasions.”

President Obama did not immediately return the congratulatory call of President Arroyo, who was among heads of states that wanted to greet him after his historic win in 2008.

In February 2009, President Arroyo failed to meet with President Obama in Washington despite efforts by Filipino diplomats. She flew to the US after she failed to get an audience with him during a side trip to Bahrain to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, one of the earliest official engagements of the newly inaugurated President Obama. The foreign trip was originally intended for the economic meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

She finally met with him last July 2009. It was a brief meeting, lasting some 45 minutes. Thompson said it wasn’t taken seriously in Washington. “It was something extended to (different) heads of state. It was pretty routine.”

The cozy relationship between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also does not matter if, according to Thompson, higher principles like President Obama’s commitment to democracy come into play. Clinton visited Manila last November 2009.

“I don’t think her (Hillary Clinton’s) personal relationship with (President) Arroyo would come to play when it gets up to the level of stealing, postponing, and failing the elections under any guise that’s tainted. And it’s hard to see how it would fail without being tainted,” he stressed.

Why US cares?

The Rundown’s host Ricky Carandang prodded Thompson on why Washington cares about the goings on in the Philippines.

The former US State Department official cited Thailand’s political crisis as the trigger.

He also said that “Philippines is in our guilt conscience. We were not proud of the fact that we were a colonial power. We did a lot of things here we are not proud of. We don’t like to think of the fact that we are not doing well here.”

He also said they are wary of “another 1972,” referring to the period leading to the declaration of martial law by former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos who eventually stayed in power for two decades.

“We paid a high price when we supported Marcos.”

He added that supporting the administration of President Corazon Aquino, who replaced President Marcos after a bloodless revolution, was part of their atonement.

The sentiment of the US government under the Obama administration is to promote democracy, “which is part of his image.”

“Here is a friend (Philippines) where democracy can work with some nudging from its friend (US),” he concluded.

Fil-Ams doubt ‘clean and fair’ RP polls, ask US gov’t to send observers

Fil-Ams doubt ‘clean and fair’ RP polls, ask US gov’t to send observers

WASHINGTON D.C.—Expressing concerns that the general elections in the Philippines this coming May will be “clean, fair and credible”, a Filipino-American delegation has asked the US government to send a team to observe the polls, which is also geared to become the country’s first nationwide automated elections.

The 7-member delegation, led by lawyer and business leader Loida Nicolas Lewis, met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 10 to voice doubts that the coming elections will run smoothly.

Lewis asked Clinton to “recommend to President Barack Obama to send an observer team similar to that headed by US Sen. Richard Lugar in the 1986 Philippine Snap Presidential Elections.”

Senator Lugar, still a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, had led a team composed of incumbent Sen. John Kerry, now the current chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and some 30 others who observed the elections ordered by then President Ferdinand Marcos.

The team reported widespread cheating, fraud and abuse during those elections.

In an audience with Clinton in the U.S. State Department for over two hours, Lewis, a New York-based philanthropist who used to own a food and beverage conglomerate, said the energy crisis in the Philippines could imperil the conduct of the first automated elections.

Lewis told Clinton that in the possibility of a failure of elections, the Philippine government may place the entire country under a “state of emergency” based on media reports.

Clinton commented that she will take the group’s concerns “very seriously.”

The top State Dept. official likewise ordered deputy chief of staff for foreign relations Jake Sullivan to further look into the group’s concerns.

The Philippine government is set to automate its national elections for the first time, using the system owned by Smartmatic Corporation, a Florida-based software electronic voting machine manufacturer allegedly partly-owned by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

‘Erratic, unreliable’ pilot tests

Lewis also presented a letter from “concerned Filipino-Americans” in the US that claimed “pilot tests of this automated election system’s precinct count optical scanners (PCOS) are erratic and unreliable.”

“The system can only be operated by Smartmatic employees and there is not enough time to train all the Commission on Elections (Comelec) personnel, and public school teachers, who are deputized poll workers,” she added.

Lewis also said clustering precincts into one polling place with just one PCOS machine could invite “confusion, overcrowding, and voter disenfranchisement.”

The petitioners likewise expressed concerns that Smartmatic has disabled the machine’s ultra-violet ray reader of each ballot’s barcode.

“In so doing, it removed the safeguard and protective measures against multiple counting of the same ballot resulting (in) cheating and possible vote padding,” they said.

‘Politicizing’ the military

The two-page petition also scored President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for “politicizing” the Philippine military by appointing only the members of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1978, of which she is an honorary member, to top positions of the various branches of the Armed Forces.

It added most of Arroyo’s cabinet members are retired military officers.

“In the 2004 presidential elections, it has been reported that the military was behind the scandal that fraudulently padded the votes in favor of Mrs. Arroyo,” the petition stated, adding that fraud in some areas was “done in concert” with the Ampatuans of Maguindanao who are now on trial for the massacre of 57 people, including 31 journalists.

In case of failure of elections in the presidency and vice presidency, and if Arroyo wins in the House of Representatives and becomes the Speaker of the House, she would become the likely candidate to become acting President, the group further said.

When asked who will benefit from the failure of elections, Lewis said, “the sitting President,” referring to Arroyo.

The group thus urged Clinton to send an observer team to ensure that the elections will be “independent and credible”.—JMA/JV, GMANews.TV