Column No. 400. Published on July 12, 2016.
IS FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay a traitor in the making? I may be wrong, but I think the existing jurisprudence holds that treason is a wartime offense; since we are not at war with China, Yasay’s pro-China remarks cannot be treasonous. To quote from Justice Gregorio Perfecto’s influential concurring opinion in Laurel vs Misa: “While there is peace there can be no traitors. Treason may be incubated when peace reigns. Treasonable acts may actually be perpetrated during peace, but there are no traitors until war has started.” Perhaps Yasay’s treason is only in incubation.
The accusation has been leveled at him with increasing frequency since his startling interview with the Manila bureau of Agence France-Presse over the weekend, when he seemed to have adopted an appease-China-at-all-costs policy. He or his office has since issued at least two rejoinders, to clarify his position. In response, AFP released a copy of the transcript of the interview.
It makes for upsetting reading.
The overall impression it makes—I speak for myself and apparently for many others who took to their social media accounts after reading the transcript—is that of an agent who seems to mouth the talking points, but does not understand the objectives, of the principal. In this case, the principal is not President Duterte but the Philippines itself.
Published on May 31, 2016.
IN BEIJING, China, this week, as in Siem Reap, Cambodia, four weeks ago, conversations among Asia News Network editors often revolved around, or returned to, the Duterte phenomenon. In the last month or so, some of the most-read stories shared among the 21 member-organizations have been about the unlikely candidacy or unexpected victory, the unsettling rhetoric or unconventional habits, of the Philippine president-elect.
(The most shared story on ANN in the last seven days? “Duterte: My day starts at 1 pm.”)
Often, in these conversations, the first question is: Does he mean what he says? Then the rest follow: Has he had experience at the national level? What is he known for aside from his law and order policies? Who are part of his inner circle? Who advises him on foreign policy? And, inevitably, like a punchline to a familiar joke you see coming: What is his real position on the South China Sea?
It is possible that the seeming inconstancy in the Duterte approach to the territorial and maritime conflict in the South China Sea is strategic. What does it mean when one day he talks about shelving our claims aside in exchange for Chinese bankrolling of major infrastructure projects in the Philippines, and another day he talks about planting the Philippine flag himself in the Spratly Islands? Perhaps it is meant to keep China off balance.
Published on June 9, 2015.
THE hit HBO series is as real as fantasy gets. The world imagined by the novelist George R. R. Martin and translated into compelling television by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss is both celebrated and condemned for its controversial “realism”—conspiracies are hatched in brothels, money and beauty are traded as political capital, the well-meaning are put to death.
For a show that includes ice-treading zombies and fire-breathing dragons, “Game of Thrones” is widely seen as a brutally frank dramatization of life’s hard truths. The powerful and ambitious are Machiavellian in their scheming; the state is Orwellian in its dependence on spies and informers; life itself is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and (as in the story of the good, well-meaning Ned Stark) always at risk of being suddenly shortened.
Scholars of international politics have taken to the show. Leading journals such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy have mined the series (and sometimes the books on which the series is based) for lessons on international relations (IR) or political alliances or the nature of power itself. Continue reading
Published on May 5, 2015.
EVEN IN Baku, Azerbaijan, China’s shadow looms large. At the ongoing annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank, held this year in this storied city of the Southern Caucasus, China’s ambitions are very much a topic of discussion.
Beijing’s new initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, serves as a focus for much of the talk. At the first news conference held by ADB president Takehiko Nakao, for instance, the main item in the agenda was the announcement of a new, creative arrangement that would significantly increase the multilateral development bank’s lending capacity.
But many, if not most of the questions raised at the conference, dealt with the AIIB and its relationship with the ADB. The day before the news conference, Nakao had met with Liqun Jin, a former ADB vice president now serving as secretary general of the AIIB’s “Multilateral Interim Secretariat.” At that meeting, the two agreed to collaborate. “ADB will cooperate and cofinance with AIIB on infrastructure financing across Asia by using our long experience and expertise in the region,” Nakao said after the meeting. Continue reading
Published on April 21, 2015.
ONE OF the leading scholars on the geopolitics of competing South China Sea claims is the French geographer Francois-Xavier Bonnet, a researcher with the French Institute for Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia or Irasec. The Friday before Holy Week, he read a provocative paper at the Southeast Asia Sea Conference, held at the Ateneo Law School in Makati City; I was not able to attend the forum, but he was kind enough to send me a copy of his paper.
It is a short but potent work of research, calling into question the “grand narrative” of the “archaeological campaigns” launched by Beijing in the 1970s. “Among the artifacts these expeditions found [in the Paracel islands] were porcelains from different periods, the remains of temples and several sovereignty markers,” Bonnet writes. “These markers were dated 1902, 1912 and 1921.” The campaigns served as the basis for extending the history of China’s “inspection tours” of the area, and thus of its rights to the Paracels, to 1902.
And then it gets really interesting. Allow me to quote from Bonnet at length:
“There is a simple reason why no scholar has been able to unearth any historical records of the 1902 expedition: it never happened. Instead evidence of a 1902 voyage was concocted at a much later date: 1937. Continue reading
Published on September 24, 2013.
I had a chance to join 14 other Asean journalists in a wide-ranging interview with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week. ANC’s Coco Alcuaz, formerly of Bloomberg, has already written of Lee’s pragmatic approach to the territorial disputes between China and some Asean member-states.
It is worth repeating the most important quote from Lee. Asked by Siti Hajar of the Borneo Bulletin whether the territorial disputes between certain Asean states and China can be resolved sooner rather than later, he replied:
“It cannot be resolved. These are territorial disputes. I say it is mine, you say it is yours. Whose is it? So either I say sorry, I made a mistake, it is yours; or you must say sorry, you made a mistake, it is mine. And no government can say that. So therefore, I do not think that the overlapping claims can be cleared up. They will remain overlapping. But what you can do is manage the situation, avoid some escalation at sea, on the land or sea itself, and where possible, do joint development of the resources which are there, which I think is Brunei’s approach from what I can see.”