Is the US Asian pivot for real?
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(First published in the Philippine Star issue of April 3, 2013)
For a while it was easy to dismiss the histrionics of the young North Korean leader as a temper tantrum to catch attention. Lately, however, it is easy to worry that his increasingly bellicose statements may force the 29-year-old leader to save face and indeed bring the 60-year-old truce in the peninsula back into a shooting war.
And what a horrifying shooting war that will be, given the nuclear capability of the hermit state. In a sense, the North Koreans have nothing much to lose. Their people are starving and the world community has isolated them with debilitating economic sanctions. Inflicting a first strike blow on a super power may just give their warped minds an endorphin rush… the political equivalent of an orgasm after a rape.
The North Koreans have threatened to strike Okinawa, Guam and Hawaii where US military forces are based. With well publicized visits of an armada of US warships here supposedly for Balikatan exercises, that may just be enough provocation for the North Koreans to target Subic as well.
And we are well within the reach of North Korean rockets as proven by recent “no fly zone” alerts our civil defense officials instituted during past rocket tests. All of a sudden, the idea of heavy US military presence here as a counterfoil to China’s predatory policies in the West Philippine Sea doesn’t seem like a very good idea.
Our only real hope now lies in the effectiveness of the US shield that we hope and presume covers us from any rockets coming from the hermit kingdom up North. One can never be too sure with the Americans if how they are treating us on trade matters is a gauge. We really ought to be more realistic about these so called friends.
Because of our location along key Pacific trading routes, relations with Manila should be important to any American president, American journalist Greg Rushford wrote from Washington DC in his blog The Rushford Report. The other good reason why the US must treat us better, according to Rushford is because “under Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines has come out of intensive care.”
Rushford noted how our economy is booming…
“Construction cranes dot Manila’s skyline. The areas just north of Manila that once housed major US military bases at Clark Field and Subic Bay are booming. Clark International Airport — where more birds used to land than airplanes just a few years ago— has taken off, with passenger arrivals skyrocketing from 50,000 in 2004 to 1.3 million last year. For anyone looking at the beneficial advantages that happen when foreign investments that foster Philippine economic growth are welcomed, this is it.”
Rushford recounts how the former US military bases have blossomed after the Americans left.
“Indeed, the former American bases have become models of the benefits of attracting foreign investment. Yokohama Tires and Texas Instruments have billion-plus dollar investments at Clark; Samsung also has an important semiconductor operation there. Korea’s Hanjin has the world’s fourth-largest shipyard at Subic Bay.
“In their Cold-War heyday, the former US bases employed perhaps 40,000 Filipinos. Now, under Philippine management, the number of jobs in the Clark-Subic corridor has shot up more than fourfold — more than 160,000. ‘I don’t think there has been a better time for the Philippines than today,” says Dennis Wright, a dynamic former US Navy captain who is now developing a $3-billion industrial park at the former Clark Field for a group of Kuwaiti investors.”
But the US, Rushford complains, isn’t even supportive in the economic and trade areas. “While the White House has supported enhanced US-Philippine security ties, Washington has not put serious energy into deepening trade ties.
“The Obama administration has not welcomed the Philippines into the TPP negotiations. The European Union is interested in negotiating a preferential trade agreement with the Philippines; the White House is not. Washington has no present plans to engage Manila seriously to promote trade liberalization anytime before 2016, when neither Obama nor Aquino will be in office.”
Rushford continued his report:
“The Filipinos have noticed. Last September, speaking to an influential audience in Washington that was convened by the US-Philippines Society and the respected Center for Strategic and International Studies, Finance secretary Cesar Purisima lamented that his country was not wanted in the TPP. That trade deal as presently constituted, including some Asian countries and ignoring others, the secretary explained, would distort regional trade flows and thus ‘hinder’ the laudable goal of promoting genuine trade expansion.
“Meanwhile, where the Philippines is concerned, the USTR is in full ‘enforcement’ mode.
“On March 28, the USTR’s trade police will preside over a hearing into complaints of labor-rights abuses from 2001– 2007 that were perpetrated during former President Gloria Arroyo’s watch — murders of union organizers, and such. The implied threat is that if President Obama personally determines that Aquino has not been diligent enough by way of cleaning up the mess he inherited, Obama could yank the Philippines’ duty-free privileges pursuant to the Generalized System of Preferences program.
“That would, of course, be ridiculous. After all, Aquino has put Arroyo — who never lost her GSP privileges when she ran the Philippines — under house arrest while she faces graft charges. Aquino’s labor secretary, Rosalinda Baldoz, is widely respected for her integrity and dedication in addressing the Arroyo-era abuses…
“Why would the USTR be holding such a hearing that by its nature is demeaning to an important American ally? While it’s tempting to blame the bureaucrats, the trade cops are essentially playing out their intended roles of ‘enforcement’ oversight that Congress mandated in the GSP legislation.
“Countries like the Philippines that sign up for the GSP program must agree to submit themselves to such oversight from Washington, notwithstanding the indignities. That’s one of the main reasons why the US Congress likes the GSP program — there is always an implicit understanding that economic privileges granted, can also be taken away. And no American president has ever complained that the generous GSP program is also a diplomatic lever that can always be pulled, if necessary to keep allies in line.
“The GSP program isn’t particularly generous to the Philippines anyway. To cite just one example: Philippine canned tuna exports are not eligible for the duty-free treatment, as they are politically ‘sensitive.’ The sensitivity involves American Samoa, which is an American territory.
“Official US policy has long discriminated against Asian tuna exporters like the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia. The Asian tuna exporting countries face protective US tariffs of up to 12 percent. But American Samoa, because it is officially US territory, can export its canned tuna to the US mainland duty free. Without the protective tariffs, the Samoans could not compete.
“Obama inherited the economically indefensible US tuna tariffs from his predecessor, George W. Bush, who inherited them from his predecessors. Bush rebuffed Gloria Arroyo when she sought their removal. It’s safe to say that Obama will also kick the tuna-tariff can down the road.”
Last year, Rushford also reported about how Obama repudiated a request of P-Noy for some trade preferential treatment for our garments industry. As I reported it in this column June 15 last year, Greg Rushford’s op/ed piece for the Wall Street Journal explained what happened:
“On Mr. Aquino’s other goal—dropping US tariffs on his country’s clothing exports—the Obama administration sent the President home empty-handed. The Philippine leader urged Barack Obama to support a bill introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives to boost Philippine clothing exports to the US, which amounted to $1.7 billion last year. The SAVE Act—for Save Our Industries—would give Philippine garment manufacturers duty-free access to US clothing markets as long as they buy US fabrics to make their jeans, shirts and dresses.
“Instead, Mr. Aquino got the brush off… Chris Panlilio, the Philippine undersecretary of trade who came to Washington with Mr. Aquino, says it is unfair ‘given our historical relationship with America’ for the Philippines not to enjoy preferential trade.’”
What’s strange is what follows next as Rushford reports:
“Mr. Obama has been fighting tooth and nail to make Vietnam buy American fabrics in return for tariff reductions. The Vietnamese, sensibly, have pointed out the economic absurdities of this policy.
“Undeterred, the Obama White House vows to keep up the pressure until Vietnamese negotiators give in. The hypocrisy is too hard to ignore: Washington wants from Hanoi what it won’t give to Manila.”
Friend and ally? We should wonder.
As for the Asian pivot, I doubt if the guys in Washington know what that means beyond being a good PR line for over trusting allies.
Teach a child to be polite and courteous, and when he grows up, he’ll never be able to drive in Manila.