Friday, December 9, 2005

Russia, China Big In ASEAN. Where's America?

VLADIMIR PUTIN will be attending the annual meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) next week in Kuala Lumpur. But here is how the Russian Information Agency NOVOSTI put it --
Putin to attend first Russia-ASEAN summit in Malaysia
MOSCOW, December 6 (RIA Novosti) - President Vladimir Putin will visit Malaysia to attend the first Russia-ASEAN summit and the first East Asian Summit, the Kremlin press service reported Tuesday. During his visit, scheduled for December 13-14, the Russian president will also hold a number of bilateral meetings.

The word "ALSO" is pregnant with meaning perhaps because it is China's un-ignorable presence that has already loomed large over ASEAN. Yet it would seem as if the Russian Bear is ALSO interested in a little Southeast Asian hospitality, though if truth be told the unexpected appearance of Putin in Kuala Lumpur next week indicates a major milestone may have been achieved in a long but determined romancing.

Looking at the Novosti lead paragraph again, one also notices that "the first East Asian Summit" is the Chinese term for what I recently called China's New East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The principal motif of China's "East Asian Summit" is a whole network of BILATERAL FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS between China and her Southeast Asian neighbors, which ALSO appears to be Russia's tack. Who gave the other the idea is lost to recent history, but it does not appear that they got the idea from America...

Dana R. Dillon of the Heritage Foundation analyzes China's recent geopolitical and geo-economic initiatives in the region in an article last October, China and ASEAN: Endangered American Primacy in Southeast Asia.

In this article and many others in a similar vein, Dillon notes America's tepid response, having only one Free Trading partner in Singapore, though another is being negotiated with Thailand. And no FTA for the Philippines -- more than just a friend and ally for over a century.

In the areas of mutual defense and security, Dillon notes an apparent reversal of long-standing
US engagement in Southeast Asia,
In contrast to China’s focused expansion of dip­lomatic and security relations with Southeast Asia, the U.S. Department of State is actively downgrad­ing the security relationship with ASEAN coun­tries. Despite the fact that no Secretary of State has missed an ARF meeting since 1982, Secretary Con­doleezza Rice skipped the July 25–29, 2005, meet­ing in Laos (her first opportunity to attend an ARF meeting) and sent her deputy instead.
Rice's absence from that meeting was noted even here in a steadfastly introverted Archipelago, when the leading Manila daily prominently reported that absence last July in this AFP dispatch: Rice to skip key ASEAN talks, may be seen as snub by region.

TAKEN THE HINT: Perhaps the region has taken the hint, from the tepidity (Dillon's word) of America's economic and security poisture towards the region, and decided ASEAN must deal with China and Russia in order to survive and promote its own interests, economic, political and defensive. One notes with some wonderment of course at the sudden appearance in Manila of JOHN NEGROPONTE, President George W. Bush's appointed Director of National Intelligence, who is an old and sympathetic Asia and Philippine hand. He was greeted in Manila the last few days with a series of what Manuel L. Quezon III called "bomblets" for their thankful non-lethality and dubious provenance given the on-going Congress hearings. (Changing the subject is a favorite tactic here.) Still, the phoned in bomb threat reported by some Philippine broadcast media as being from "a guy called Abdullah," forced the closure of the US Embassy in Manila for two days and temporarily stanched the steady flow of emigration to the Continent. (Operations resumed in earnest yesterday with only a minor disagreements in the crowded queues over "Who's next please?" because of the two-day backlog!) I fear when JI attacks for real, it'll be more like Bali. [This is an R-18 blogsite okay?]

A SEA OF TROUBLES: But President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will attend the upcoming Summit in a terrible condition. There was that black eye from the Thai Kick Boxing blow delivered by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra over the conduct of the recently concluded SEA Games, which strangely always result in a huge medal haul for their consecutive host countries. Shinawatra is having his own political troubles in Thailand, so the insinuated charge of cheating against Filipino officials at the Games, some say, was a cheap shot from the Thai leader. It comes at a time when the Philippine President is fighting for her political life and is nearly overwhelmed now by the gale-force winds of Gloriagate -- that long-running controversy over charges that she rigged the 2004 elections with Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

ACE IN THE HOLE: Although the President's hold on Congress kept her from being impeached last October, it may take her Ace in the Hole -- the Philippine Supreme Court -- to somehow bury the red hot radioactive Garci Tapes that have been eating away at her legitimacy and hold on power. The administration nearly collapsed last July when former President Corazon Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon, and ten of her most trusted Cabinet secretaries, withdrew their support for her. The entire economic team led by Sec. Cesar Purisima resigned along with a long time personal confidante of the President, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, and Education Secretary Butch Abad.

ZUGZWANG: I am forced to characterize the President's situation, and that of her country, with a chess term, ZUGZWANG, (not the impossible UNSTABLE STALEMATE in current use) because there really is very little chance for her to rescue an increasingly worsening personal political situation. I cannot imagine how the various factions of the Philippine political elite can ever be put back together again before at least one clean, convincing election. It is highly likely that her allies on the Court will indeed rule against any further use of the Garci Tapes as evidence of poll fraud. But the stunning revelation yesterday in the Senate Defense Committee hearing under Senator Rodolfo Biazon, that a fourteen man team of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) conducted a WIRETAPPING OPERATION on the President and Commissioner Garcillano last year is OMINOUS for the President, to say the least. If the suspicion is proved that the Palace ordered that operation because it did not trust the notorious voterigger of 35 years, Virgilio Garcillano, it would constitute a High Crime, perhaps treason, for so prostituting the Military to selfish partisan political purposes. Whoever is guilty of allegedly using ISAFP and the Military for usch purposes should be punished to the full extent of the law.

THE LONG VIEW: Her fate, in the long view, is not as important as certain broader considerations. The War on Terror is going very bady in the Philippines, in my opinion, despite apparent progress by the Malaysian, Philippine and US governments in peace talks with the MILF (a whole other story for another time.) Dulmatin, the genius of Jemaah Islamiyah, involved in the Bali Bombings in Indonesia has reportedly set up shop somewhere in Mindanao, where there has recently been intense fighting with Muslim rebels whose memberships in various formations -- MNLF, MILF, Abu Sayyaf, Rajah Sulaiman Movement, or some corrupt units and officers of the Philippine Army -- seem as fluid and open as the national boundaries of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines in the Sulu Sulawesi Sea. Likewise, the CPP-NPA continues to vie for political power in the cities and countrysides using both legal and armed tactics, including remote controlled land mines and organized extortion. Which is probably why the European Union recently renewed its designation of both as foreign terrorist organizations. (I wonder if the Netherlands is a bona fide member of the E.U., considering that that state has sponsored the continuing proceedings of a self-proclaimed revolutionary Philippine government in exile in Utrecht for over a decade now. Talk about state-sponsored terrorism -- despite the drought on donations from Euroleft organizations enforced by the terrorist tag, the CPP's central committee survives quite well thank you, on Dutch welfare. Phooey on that.)

WHERE'S THE ANTI-TERRORISM LAW? All these considerations come together in sharp focus in the lack of an anti-terrorism law in the Philippines, where terrorism is considered to be a mere tactic. (I hope when we do have such a law, the Government of the Netherlands is included in a special list). The reason why the Philippines is not a full participant in the international defense effort (sometimes called the Great War on Terrorism) is that its leader has not been able to make the case for war among the Filipino people, perhaps because she does not believe or care about the Metaphor of the Single Jetliner. Since she is a mere beneficiary of the Paradox of People Power, reliability and constancy of purpose with our allies and the people have not been her strongest suits.

MANDARIN AND BELUGA CAVIAR: There will be of course very little for the Philippines to do at the upcoming summit, given the President's fatally weakened position in the Archipelago. And already there are huge emporia of Chinese-made goods down in Divisoria. Though the storeminders cannot speak Pilipno or English, I understand Philippine Army officers are learning Mandarin under Chinese government scholarships. The Chinese are also helping to build a railway from the Monument to Bonifacio in Balintawak, Manila, to the former Clark Air Force Base in Angeles, Pampanga. Is Russian Beluga caviar far behind? Or indeed, third-hand MIG-21s?

[FOR GARCI WATCHERS: I wonder why that fourteen man ISAFP wiretapping unit which Ms. Marieta Santos exposed yesterday is called "the Mig21 group"? Are they using Russian cell phone interceptor equipment maybe?]


Check out the EconBlogger for an interesting perspective on "Dutch Disease" setting in with the boom in hard currency remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers.
In short, the main problem is that an earnings boom may reinforce existing distortions and policy dithering. If the Central Bank is pursuing an inappropriate dirty float of the currency, the reserves accumulated from dollar earnings may encourage its anti-depreciation efforts. The dollar bonanza may also lull foreign lenders to throw more money down the abyss of public profligacy. That is, Dutch Disease is bad for economies prone to unsustainable exchange rate and fiscal policies. One guess as to which country I am describing.
Read it all at the Rational Choice.

(1230) PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER AT TWENTY: I join in congratulations to the country's leading broadsheet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary today. PDI is like the New York Times of the Philippines, in more ways than one. Her Lifestyle and Opinion pages -- to which I contributed many articles for a good number of years -- became the intellectual whetstone and cradle that produced the old Philippine Commentary. This resurrection of that old blog is also a Rededication to deeply felt ideals and principles, which in many instances readers here will find to be in direct contradiction to many positions PDI takes. Yet my Liberty is their Liberty, and that common ground we shall both cheerfully defend even if we disagree on what should happen next and which virtue is greater: Nationalism or Globalism?

If you must read something in PDI today, read the former University of Philippines Law School Dean Raul Pangalangan and his column, A Passion for Reason, where today's title is HUMAN RIGHTS HERESIES. Here are some excerpts but READ IT ALL:
AS THE world celebrates Human Rights Day tomorrow, allow me to challenge the popular wisdom that “nationalists” make good human rights advocates, and that human rights protection always goes hand-in-hand with the law. Allow me to exercise my human right to spread heresy in a nation beholden to populism....

Albert Einstein has said: “Nationalism is the measles of the world.” It is actually a bad word elsewhere, except in the benighted Philippine Islands where the term is used as an easy substitute for selflessness, civic-mindedness, public-spiritedness, or just about anything that entails individual sacrifice for a communal cause.

Indeed, what Human Rights Day celebrates is not really the idea of human rights itself, but the idea that human rights is a global cause that can be enforced across national borders. If the idea of human dignity were all there was to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then it wasn’t pioneering at all. The 1776 US Declaration of Independence and the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen certainly beat them to it. What was really revolutionary about 1948 is that it allows outsiders to “meddle” in erstwhile domestic matters.
And I didn't even pick out the good bits yet! This is what happens when a man's Reason and Passion find common cause in an Ideal greater than the common orthodoxy, and makes Truth his unerring compass to the Pole of Justice. My respects to the worthy Dean of the School of Law!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM JOHN LENNON: This is from a beautiful site I admire a lot: The HERETIK on the death anniversary of that legendary Beatle. (Did I have to tell you that? It's been 25 lonely years!)

(1900) YET ANOTHER HIGH LEVEL VISITOR: Christopher S. Bond, (Republican, Missouri) and a member of the Senate Defense and Intelligence Committees is here too. following right on the heels of John Negroponte. I wonder why?


Econblogger said...

Rusia is a democratic (?) capitalist country. But no ally of the US or NATO, for sure.

China is effectively a capitalist authoritarian state. Again, no ally of the US.

The Philippine ant better be careful and very, very clever while the elephants cavort. In foreign policy, I believe in making everyone - and therefore no one - your friend.

Rizalist said...

Welcome EconBlogger! I was hoping someone who understands FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS would show up. How does the Philippines go about getting one, for crying out loud?

Major Tom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Major Tom said...

It's quite refreshing to note somehow that the ASEAN is steadily seen by the major economic powers as a strategic bloc where even Russia now is taking greater attention although I somehow suspect that the Russian Bear is just looking tightly to its own economic interest as the Middle East market, it's usual playground, is becoming less viable to Russia where the America continues to lambast its arms trade with Syria and Iran. Baka naghahanap lang ng mga bagong mabentahan.

I think if ever there would be trade agreements between ASEAN and Russia, it should be fair to the minutest detail.

Rizalist said...

Welcome Major Tom! I was actually surprised in doing the research for this piece to discover how active Russia is in courting ASEAN countries. Maybe they sense a vacuum they can fill.

Bluegreen said...


Just want to verify if it was really you who left a comment on my blog and on Wandering Mind's blog about this certain Mr. Art Bell.

Rizalist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rizalist said...

Welcome BlueGreen--Yes that was me commenting on an INTERNET HOAX involving Art Bell that is already what? 5 years old? I just thought you ought to know. It was a diabolical hoax which gets people like you mad at people who used to exist in far greater numbers than today, that is when RACISM was national disease pandemic . Nowadays racism is DECLASSE. So is reverse racism btw.



Spaking of Malaysia if you have a chance to read Jane's (Fighting Ships) Magazine, November 2005 issue has a very, very interesting and exhaustive write up on the Malaysian military/defence forces build up. The Malaysian Armed Forces have just come up with their 9th Malaysian Plan and have included attack capabilities - remember they already have 2 submarines!

If not, I can fax my copy to you but if you want me to send you a scanned version by e-mail, it will have to wait till I get back home. Am in the UK for the next three weeks.


Rizalist said...

Thanks for the tip on Janes Hillblogger. Send me your email so I can give u a fax number to send it to, I'd like to have a look at that. thanks.

Econblogger said...


In practice, only business groups band together to lobby for either free trade or protection. Typically the protectionists are import competitors; the free traders produce goods requiring a lot of imported inputs. The relative lobbies on both sides of the Pacific make me pessimistic about an FTA with USA. Consider rice, a highly politicized commodity; in the Philippines rice farmers would protest the entry of subsidized California rice. Unions in the US would also protest against outsourcing of IT to the Philippines (though we are a drop in the bucket compared to India.)

On the whole free trade with the US would be good for the Philippines, though nothing would beat global free trade.

Rizalist said...

I think the practicalities will dictate a phase of bilateral free trade agreements merging into a global zone much later. But to be specific about the US, rice is the wrong topic. What about cane sugar, which doesn't grow well in most of the US and is twice as efficient than corn sugar. There was a Nebraskan blogger (I think it was the Angry Economist) who once argued thus: if the US allowed free importation of PHilippine cane sugar, not only would PHilippines have a healthy share of the US market, the cost of sugared products to US consumers would be cut in half! It's a win for all but the US corn lobby (the most powerful!). But that's the challenge. What do you think the details are? (the quota, the mechanics, etc.)