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Alarm Bells In Washington As Philippines Election Threatens Its Anti-China Strategy

Andrew Korybko

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The Philippines votes for its next President on Monday.  Whilst the rest of the world pays little attention, strategists in Washington are worried.

The electoral frontrunner is Rodrigo Duterte, an eccentric, no-nonsense former mayor from the southern island of Mindanao who commands a Trump-like popularity and an equally loyal following. He has shaken Philippine politics to its core over the past couple of months, defying establishment pundits who – just as they did with Trump – wrongly predicted that his campaign would fizzle out over the course of each passing week.

Having totally underestimated just how dissatisfied most Filipinos are with the status quo, Duterte’s rivals missed the chance to outshine him by his anti-system rhetoric. With the race in its final days that is now too late.  Instead – also paralleling what happened with Trump – there are desperate calls for coalitions and deals to stop him.

Should these fail and should Duterte win on Monday, he promises a geopolitical revolution unlike anything the Philippines has ever seen in its history. 

Pivoting To Asia Through The Philippines

The US’s Pivot to Asia was announced by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the fall of 2011 with the unstated but obvious goal of “containing” China. Key to this strategy is the “rebalancing” – as the Pentagon calls it – of an estimated 60% of its overseas forces to the Asia-Pacific theatre. 

Such a major deployment requires many more bases than the US currently has in the region. The US has therefore sought the help of the loyal leader of its former Philippines colony, Benigno Aquino III, to find a way to re-open its bases in the Philippines which under popular pressure were closed in the 1990s.

Using the “China threat” as the ‘plausibly justifiable’ reason for doing so, but aware that the Philippines people still resent their former coloniser and are proud of having forced the US to close its Philippines bases at the end of the Cold War, the US has devised what it calls an “Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) that allows for the “rotational presence” of American troops in at least five separate bases, one of which is located on the strategic island of Palawan that abuts the South China Sea.

Although not legally “permanent” or “officially” controlled by the US, this wink-and-a-nod arrangement would in reality allow the US to redeploy its forces to the Philippines, returning the Philippines archipelago to the role of the US’s second “unsinkable aircraft carrier” (alongside Japan) which it had during the Cold War.

The “China Containment Coalition”

The Pentagon plans to use the Philippines as the maritime lynch of its “China Containment Coalition” (CCC), gathering all of its allies’ navies together and deploying them within provocative striking range of China’s claimed islands.

The other three members of the US-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – Japan, India, and Australia – would find their own way to “rotate” their military units throughout the Philippines islands as well, thereby forming the core of the CCC.

To add a regional element to this mix, the plan is for the Philippines and Vietnam, both of which contest some of China’s maritime claims, to intensify their strategic cooperation to the point of a mutual defence treaty. 

This would draw Vietnam into the network of the anti-China coalition being built up by Washington by using the defence ties between Vietnam and the Philippines to making the members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue de facto allies of Vietnam.

Altogether, the Pentagon plan is to produce a critical mass of hostile states near China’s southern maritime border which backed by the US could quickly “counter” any moves by Beijing thereby “containing’ it to the East Asian mainland.

Duterte’s Revolution

Everything was proceeding according to plan until Duterte began to question the “Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement”. While his running mate has said Duterte would honour the agreement, he added that he would do so “from a position of strength”.

Back in October 2014, Duterte went on record to say the “Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement” should be scrapped if it allowed US servicemen in the Philippines to avoid justice for any crimes they committed.

This pinpoints an issue very sensitive for Filipinos who have vivid memories of how US troops were able to escape punishment for acts of gross misbehaviour whilst the US military occupied its bases in the Philippines.  Public anger over this issue was one of the key factors in mobilising local opposition to the bases and explains why many Filipinos oppose their return.

Since it is impossible to imagine such an incident not arising at some point, it is all but inevitable that a situation will occur which will fulfil Duterte’s criterion for scrapping the “Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement”  Taken together with Duterte’s assertion that he intends to deal with the US “from a position of strength” it is easy to see how this might trigger the process of revoking the agreement.

No Filipino politician has previously spoken about the US in this way.  Moreover other things he has said also suggest an intention to send a strongly independent line.

Not surprisingly the Pentagon-affiliated publication “Starts and Stripes”, which writes for US servicemen servicemen and their families, published a scathing critique of Duterte just last week.  Here are some excerpts:

“With Filipinos set to choose among five candidates on May 9, Duterte, the incumbent mayor of Davao City who has said the U.S. “should not meddle in our affairs,” holds a strong lead, according to the most recent poll released Sunday.

Duterte is very popular now because people are sick and tired of the same old, same old,” said Virginia Bacay Watson, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. “He’s kind of a fresh face, fresh perspective, compared to the other elites who are running.”

Duterte has presented himself to voters as a straight-talker who is not part of the Manila elite – someone who can get things done even if he needs to bend the rules to do so. That includes the country’s foreign affairs.

“He feels that American influence is too strong, that we’re too dependent on U.S. intervention in anything we do,” said Babe Romualdez, an opinion columnist for The Philippine Star newspaper who has interviewed the candidates one-on-one about their platforms on the U.S. military and relations with China.

“He was an activist when he was a student and young lawyer,” Romualdez said. “I get a sense that he’s saying the same things that most of the militants say.”

In Romualdez’s interview with the front-runner, the candidate said “we really don’t need the Americans to deal with the Chinese because the Chinese want to talk to us alone.”

“If I become president I’m going to reach out to the Chinese and talk to them alone without American intervention,” he said.

Duterte publically opposed the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. – of which the EDCA was an amendment – and claimed in 2013 that he had rejected a request by the U.S. to establish Davao as a base of operations for drones.

Earlier this year, he was quoted saying that although the country was now bound by the EDCA, he had “reservations about the presence of foreign troops.” He added, “We will not allow the building of structures.””

Clearly, Duterte is not the sort of leader the Pentagon envisaged for the Philippines.   If he becomes Philippine President there will inevitably be concern in Washington that its elaborate plans for an anti-Chinese coalition in the region could be scuttled.

The New Silk Road Pays A Pit Stop To The Philippines

Worse still for the US Duterte is saying the Philippines and China could have peaceful and pragmatic relations with each other, engaging in bilateral dialogue over their disputes without the meddling interference of the US.

What that would mean for the US is that the Philippines might become a tacit Chinese ally, which would completely upend the regional strategic balance.

That is not what Duterte is actually calling for, but he did say is that he not only would be open to talking to Beijing, but would even further and engage in joint exploration in the South China Sea. Further, in seeking to develop the decades-neglected infrastructure of one of the most promising economies of Asia, Duterte has suggested that he would be open to inviting China to build a railroad and other types of connective projects that Beijing has become globally renowned for. This would of course mean replacing US contractors – traditionally heavily entrenched in the Philippines – with cheaper and possibly more efficient Chinese ones – potentially causing US companies to lose out from billions of dollars of construction deals.

Joint maritime exploration and infrastructure cooperation between the Philippines and China has the potential to turn the entire Philippines archipelago into the latest pit stop for China’s New Silk Road, presenting the US with its biggest geopolitical setback since the reunification of Crimea with Russia.

Concluding Thoughts

The entire future of the US’s Pivot to Asia hangs in the balance as Filipinos go to the polls in what is shaping up to be the most pivotal election in their country’s history.

While the US and its allied politicians are preaching a campaign of anti-Chinese fear mongering and war, Rodrigo Duterte is bucking the system and preaching the benefits the Philippines could reap from more pragmatic policies.

By questioning the need for the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement and subtly threatening to subvert it, Duterte has made himself the US’s enemy number one amongst politicians from the Asia-Pacific. No other individual is speaking out in this way and unlike others who have come before him, he seems to command a high level of genuine people support.

If Duterte succeeds in winning the Presidency, it could represent a paradigm shift in Philippine history and the region’s geopolitics, resulting in the US losing its second ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ and having its Pivot to Asia – ie. its plan to “contain” China – fail before it has even properly got underway.

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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