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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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US Pressures Germany To Ditch Huawei Over ‘Security Concerns’

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

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Via Zerohedge


First it was Australia, New Zealand and Japan, now the US is pressing the German government to refuse to use equipment manufactured by Chinese telecom giant Huawei as Europe’s largest economy seeks to build out its 5G infrastructure.

According to Bloomberg, a US delegation met on Friday with German Foreign Ministry officials in Berlin to talk about the security risks presented by Huawei’s equipment, which the US says is vulnerable to spying. The meeting in Germany follows a report from late last month claiming the US had launched an “extraordinary outreach campaign” to warn its allies against using Huawei equipment (while its vulnerability to Chinese spying has been cited as the reason to avoid Huawei, it’s also worth noting that the US and China are locked in a battle for who will dominate the global 5G space…a battle that Huawei is currently winning).

Germany is set to hold an auction early next year to find a supplier to help expand its 5G network. The Berlin meeting took place one day after Deutsche Telekom said it would reexamine its decision to use Huawei equipment.

US officials are optimistic that their warnings are getting a hearing, though any detailed talks are in early stages and no concrete commitments have been made, according to one of the people.

The US pressure on Germany underscores increased scrutiny of Huawei as governments grapple with fears that the telecom-equipment maker’s gear is an enabler for Chinese espionage. The Berlin meeting took place a day after German carrier Deutsche Telekom AG said it will re-evaluate its purchasing strategy on Huawei, an indication that it may drop the Chinese company from its list of network suppliers.

France is also reportedly considering further restrictions after adding Huawei products to its “high alert” list. The US has already passed a ban preventing government agencies from using anything made by Huawei. But the telecoms equipment provider isn’t taking these threats to its business lying down.

U.S. warnings over espionage are a delicate matter in Germany. Revelations over the scale of the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence, including reports of tapping Merkel’s mobile phone, are still fresh in Berlin five years after they came to light.

Huawei is pushing back against the accusations. The company’s rotating chairman warned this week that blacklisting the Chinese company without proof will hurt the industry and disrupt the emergence of new wireless technology globally. Ken Hu, speaking at a Huawei manufacturing base in Dongguan, cited “groundless speculation,” in some of the first public comments since the shock arrest of the company’s chief financial officer.

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. In an editorial published Sunday, the Global Times, an English-language mouthpiece for the Communist Party, warned that China should retaliate against any country that – like Australia – takes a hard line against Huawei. So, if you’re a German citizen in Beijing, you might want to consider getting the hell out of Dodge.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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