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Asia's Game of Thrones
In Manila, U.S. Diplomat Rebukes and Reassures

Washington’s top Asia diplomat is in the Philippines today, meeting with the Philippine Foreign Secretary after a turbulent week that had President Rodrigo Duterte announcing his country’s “separation” from the U.S. Reuters:

The most senior U.S. diplomat for Asia assured the Philippines on Monday that Washington remained its “trusted” ally and that it supported Manila’s blossoming ties with China.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel however warned that growing concern about drug-related killings in the Southeast Asian country was “bad for business”. [..]

Explaining Duterte’s “Goodbye America” remarks, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said on Saturday the United States remained the “closest friend” of the Philippines, but Manila wanted to break away from a “mindset of dependency and subservience” and forge closer ties with other nations.

Russel, speaking to reporters after meeting Yasay, said Duterte “has already walked back”.

Notably, Russel stated that the U.S. supported improved relations between the Philippines and China, rejecting the zero-sum thinking that was apparent in Duterte’s own remarks last week, when the Philippine president declared that “America has lost.”

Despite reassuring talk of the continued alliance, Russel did rebuke Duterte for causing “consternation” among allies and investors with his provocative comments, which he said were “not a positive trend.” Yet in many respects, Russel’s remarks appeared designed to smooth over disagreements, and reflected U.S. policy as usual: affirming support for the Philippines’ status as an American military ally while chastising Duterte for his violent, extralegal crackdown on drugs.

The U.S.-Philippine relationship remain ambiguous in the wake of Duterte’s Beijing trip. Philippine officials have attempted to soften their president’s rhetorical excesses without directly contradicting him. That balancing act has often produced its own contradictions. Foreign Secretary Yasay, for instance, said on Saturday that the United States remained the “closest friend” of the Philippines, and today reaffirmed the U.S. as the “only military ally” of the Philippines. However, he has also denied that the Philippines was backtracking on the talk of separation.

President Duterte is in Japan this week, so the United States will be eagerly watching to see how he will approach the U.S. relationship upon his return. The diplomatic niceties exchanged in Manila may calm the waters for now, but the real test is yet to come.

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  • JR

    I don’t understand what the big deal is. Very shortly Duerte will discover that dealing with Obama and Clinton is materially different than dealing with Xi or Putin. It is not our job to hold the hand of every tin pot populist that pops out in some 3rd rate country.

    • Blackbeard

      Right, what do we need allies for anyway? China has won in the SCS and we lost. More accurately we were never in the game.

      Truly, Obama has been a transformational president, just as he said he would be. A stagnant economy, race relations set back 30 years, the ME in chaos, Eastern Europe falling back into Russian hands, etc. Four more years of such transformations and we are done for.

      • JR

        We need allies. But Philippines needs us way more than we need them. It is time for all these tin pot anti-american d-bags to learn that lesson the hard way.

        • Blackbeard

          In reality you are right: They do need us and they will ultimately be sorry if they trade an alliance with us for one with China. But how do they perceive it? I suggest that in the Philippines, and in many other countries today, the perception of the U.S. is of a country in retreat and in decline, and for this we can thank Obama. And, given that perception, the Philippines decision to go with what they think will be the stronger partner is not unreasonable.

          • JR

            Yes, we will be harvesting bitter fruit of Obama’s policy for decades to come. I just get ticked off when some petty tin-pot leader starts acting like US is here to serve him and once he is done with us, we need to go. And that’s why I would never hack it as a diplomat.

  • Andrew Allison

    There is, of course, another explanation, namely that an utterly impotent Administration is making the best of a very bad deal!

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