POSTSCRIPT / June 4, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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‘Duterte live’ wows ‘em in Tokyo forum

IT COULD be discomfiting to see President Duterte being handed a note to conclude his speech at the Nikkei international conference in Japan last Friday, but viewing the entire episode up to his final “arigato” put it in favorable enough context.

Duterte overshot his allotted time because he had to insert into the prepared text his strong opinion that climate change was being largely ignored, the US-China rivalry was making the region a flashpoint, and the narcotics scourge was devouring this country.

As he tackled those topics, the audience that included officials and academicians got a sample of how Duterte of the Philippines thinks and talks in a borrowed tongue. As he ad-libbed, accent and all, the crowd occasionally laughed and clapped while experiencing the authentic Duterte live.

Our guess is that while his digressions gave his long-time critics more ammunition to ridicule him, his first-time listeners had a memorable exposure to the mayor-turned-president who shook traditional politics with his populist rhetoric and his mailed-fist handling of stubborn problems.

At that forum on “The Future of Asia,” Duterte drew attention to the plight of developing countries bedeviled by the effects of climate change. Despite conferences all over the planet, with speakers adding to the air pollution, the big offenders have not acted aggressively to slow down global warming.

Even President Trump then campaigning for the White House made light of climate change as nothing but a Chinese invention. Duterte didn’t report that, the news agencies did.

At least Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. was more positive, saying tongue in cheek that with the melting of the polar caps, sea levels would rise and submerge the artificial isles that China had built in Philippine waters.

No, Duterte did not quote his foreign secretary’s tweet. But he did mention his firing a Cabinet official who wasted official time and funds by attending as many as 20 climate change conferences without her junkets contributing to changing the climate.

Sad to say, while industrialized countries have achieved their present level of development by generating power that released massive pollutants destroying the ozone layer, they now want developing nations not to follow their pollutive example.

Duterte noted that the United States itself does not want to sign the Global Warming Convention, that China has withdrawn its signature, and that Russia has been temporizing on it – while fledgling economies are being pressured to subscribe to it.

This is not fair, Duterte said, adding that there should be accountability – with the burgeoning economies that had contributed the most to global warming accepting greater responsibility instead of shifting the burden to up-and-coming economies.

He recalled mentioning to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres the consequence of such all-talk and no-action, giving the example of the Philippines as a victim. Its east side facing the Pacific, the archipelago is hit too often by typhoons that exact a heavy toll in lives and property lost.

But with death and destruction possibly resulting from a miscalculation – as in the case of war — in the ongoing Big Power rivalry in the region, he said climate change would no longer matter. War would so destroy the world that food production would become unsustainable, he noted.

• US-China trade war spills to security

PRESIDENT Trump has cranked up his trade war with Beijing, raising tariff on a number of imports from China (while taking similar action on imports from Mexico). He has tightened a ban on Huawei Technologies and widened restrictions to include some AI and IT items from China.

The collateral damage of the trade war has spilled over to the security field and threatens to draw into the fray the allies of the contending parties.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told a security forum in Singapore on Saturday that the “coercive behavior like China’s that erodes other nations’ sovereignty must end.” He also urged victims of such pressure to build up their military muscle to better defend themselves.

This drew a warning from China Defense Minister Wei Fenghe the next day for “external forces” against promoting the idea of an independent Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province that it can recover any time. He stressed that China will not give up a “single inch” of its territory.

Shanahan’s call for so-called victims of China to beef up their military capability came after Trump announced that Japan was buying 105 American-made stealth warplanes, making it home to the largest F35 fleet outside the US.

Days earlier, Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose Laurel V disclosed that Japan was offering to help the Philippines upgrade its military capability. Tokyo’s passing on to Manila excess weapons and such hardware on easy terms will not be as complicated as when military materiel is sourced from the US.

Duterte told the Nikkei forum that if he sent forces to repel any attacker (presumably Chinese) his defenders would be wiped out. He admitted that there was not enough money to step up AFP modernization as funds are also needed for food, education and hospitals.

He may have anticipated the escalation of the US-China conflict when he described Beijing as being stressed while expressing the hope that somebody use their good offices and reach out to Washington.

Such a third party to be effective, he added, must be one in whom President Xi Jinping does not harbor any animosity. As his Nikkei speech was interrupted, no one got the chance to ask if he was willing to be a peace broker.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 4, 2019)

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