Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — Duterte’s Ukraine Trap
I found these articles useful for my column and recommend them for further reading:
The Philippines, Russia, and China:
This week’s The Long View
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM March 02, 2022
Sometimes we have to be reminded that we still have a president. Yesterday provided one such reminder. The morning after the Philippines joined the majority of the United Nation’s members in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the President made a rare daytime manifestation, summoning military, police officials, and businessmen to discuss “what’s happening in Europe … so that we can come up with a sensible front on how to handle this thing.” The impression that the President just figured out an invasion’s been going on for nearly a week — and that however laudable the Philippine position in the General Assembly was, it was improvised without regard to the actual opinions of the President, the person with the authority to make foreign policy — is inescapable as a result. But it’s fairer to conclude our President is stuck with procurement deals that are diplomatically toxic and realizes it.
This would take the teeth out of what’s left of his so-called foreign policy, one that for a while seemed to have a second wind. On the 26th, there was a Twitter chorus hailing the President for his “independent foreign policy,” insisting that the US and NATO are both untrustworthy. The next day, a long text message was circulating pitying the Ukrainian leader who was helpless in the face of Russia decimating his air and ground forces while the West did nothing. Putin, the message said, had brilliantly called Washington’s bluff. “Let this be a lesson for Taiwan and for the leaders of other sovereign nations that habitually tag onto America’s apron string or behave like sick poodles kissing the US President’s hand. They should realize by now it could be a costly kiss. I hope Philippines and Taiwan will not be another victim.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Michael Schuman concluded, “the war for Ukraine is the most unfortunate indication yet of the frightening direction of global geopolitics: Autocrats are striking back.” For this reason, he wrote, with autocrats on the offensive and democracies being defensive, all eyes must turn to Taiwan, the independence of which is intolerable to Beijing.
Then again China can afford strategic patience; time is on its side. But if the trend of world events, at least when Russia’s Ukrainian adventure began, seemed on the side of the bold, it had to demonstrate its core aims. Last Tuesday, the People’s Liberation Army of China’s Eastern Command said it had conducted landing drills in an undisclosed location in the East China Sea. Last Thursday, Taiwan announced it detected nine Chinese fighters entering its air defense identification zone. And what minor saber-rattling achieved, popular rhetoric could amplify.
When the G7 made a call to support Ukraine, the Global Times, a tabloid owned by the Chinese government, tweeted (“mockingly,” The Economist said): “When China takes action to eradicate [the] secessionist regime in Taiwan, you must also give China unwavering support.” A dual-messaging effort seems to have been decided. Official organs such as the People’s Daily, which didn’t condescend to even mention the goings-on in Ukraine (perhaps “reflecting the reluctance of China’s leaders to take a clear stance on it,” opined the Wall Street Journal, which pointed out, however, that discussions on Weibo more vigorously supported Russia and mocked the West).
In the end, both China and India decided not to burn their bridges with Russia and pointedly abstained in a United Nations Security Council vote condemning Russia. Yet China senses where global opinion lies; even as the UN General Assembly debated on whether to condemn Russia, news items variously reported that China wasn’t helping Russia to evade sanctions (Reuters), that China’s state banks were restricting the financing for Russian commodities, and that it was pausing Russian seaborne crude purchases (both in Bloomberg). Also on Monday, Beijing blandly stated “China and Russia are comprehensive strategic partners of coordination. Our relationship features non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third party.” But American senior White House coordinator for Indo-Pacific policy Curt Campbell described the real score as “right now, China is occupying an awkward nexus in which they’re trying to sustain their deep and fundamental relationship with Russia.” The United States for its part sent a message by sending a delegation of former defense officials to Taipei even as it insisted it would keep communications channels open with Beijing. Obligingly, Taiwan in turn has taken to downplaying any potential Chinese threat, emphasizing the talking point that its situation is different from Ukraine’s.
Why I believe DFA went rogue on Ukraine
Despite being a founding member of the UN and, as such, making it committed to opposing war as a means of settling disputes, the Philippines was not one of those that voted for the ill-fated resolution that was unsurprisingly vetoed by Russia.
In fact, five days after Russia began its invasion of its peaceful neighbor, the Philippine government has yet to make a pronouncement about its official position on the matter.
The closest thing heard from a ranking government official was the pronouncement made by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who said that the country was “going to be neutral for now … We should not meddle in the affairs in Europe, because we are not beside the borders of Ukraine.”
This stance is unfortunate, if not shortsighted.
I suggested in my column that the President, to put it bluntly one way, was out of the loop when the Philippines made its statement in the UN General Assembly; put another way, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs went rogue and on his own authority or initiative or both, made Philippine foreign policy without leave from the one authorized to make that policy — the President. It was, of course, a statement that put the Philippines foursquare in the corner of Ukraine where most of the world is, anyway. But still.
My understanding is that there was a term for what was, up to that point, the Philippine position, which was to studiously ignore the Ukrainian situation and any lobbying to shift the Philippine position to one supportive of that embattled country. Instead, the silent treatment equally conducive to Russia and China, was being called “strategic silence.”
The Inquirer editorial above reinforces my belief that the Philippines jettisoned a previous position when it made a statement in the UN General Assembly and that this was without presidential knowledge or approval.
The military procurement angle
Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project of the Philippine Air Force — Philippine Defense Resource — www.phdefresource.com
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has embarked on the acquisition of Heavy Lift Helicopters as part of its 2nd List of Horizon 2 Phase projects…
The link above will take you to an extremely detailed story updated over a period of years right down to the present. Essentially it says that while medium to heavy lift choppers do feature in Philippine military modernization plans, it’s only in later phases and besides, overall there’s been a preference for American hardware, specifically the Chinook. But President Duterte, foiled in his overall desire to institute a total withdrawal from American arms purchases, something he’d pushed practically from the start, although it intruded into the already-developing ecosystem (see this chart: South Korea, Indonesia, USA being top 3 suppliers, 2016–2020) finally agreed to the purchase of some American choppers (Blackhawks) on the specific condition that Russian choppers be bought for the heavy lift category — and that the purchase should be moved up and made a priority. Both the article above and this summary of Russia’s arms sales efforts in the region, however, point to CAATSA, the imposition of sanctions against Russia (and other countries, and those transacting with them) as the main stumbling block for Philippine government arms purchases.
What is of interest here as I mentioned in my column, is that aside from American government legislation, the Philippines were it to pursue arms purchases from Russia, would face the condemnation of many notions and their publics. This is ticklish because Russian arms deals are of great interest to the President but his term is winding down; hence his announced intention to meet with the military, police, and businessmen is interesting to those who might want to look further into the implications of those deals.
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