Trump’s ASEAN swing
BABE’S EYE VIEW - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - October 7, 2017 - 4:00pm

US President Donald Trump’s attendance at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum this November will be good for the region. This will be Trump’s first visit to Asia since he became president, and to say that this is going to be important will be an understatement since many significant developments seem to be happening in this part of the world – from the economy to security to terrorism and other major issues. While some regions are projected to go into recession, the outlook for Asia is upbeat, with projections of solid economic growth that will continue in 2018.

I am told the US president will have a very tight schedule with visits to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, with bilateral meetings and other meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit and APEC forum. There are a few US requests for the Trump Philippine visit but none that can easily be resolved. US First Lady Melania Trump will be accompanying the US president.

This Asian swing will reassure allies that the US “pivot to Asia” is not just talk but a “walk the talk” display by the US president. And while Trump is anticipated to highlight the “America first” policy of his administration primarily when it comes to trade, many also expect the US to provide a clear strategy/policy on how to deal with a belligerent North Korea.

The verbal exchange between Trump and North Korean head of state Kim Jong-un is starting to unnerve many, but some political observers believe the game of “brinkmanship” may be working. There is naturally a lot of fear of the unknown. The other day, I spoke at the Rotary Makati West luncheon and Rotarian Jun Tambunting asked me what I think would happen if missiles are fired by both the US and North Korea. My simple answer was “let’s hope we see each other in heaven.”

There was even a 1994 Agreed Framework signed during the time of Bill Clinton where North Korea pledged to eventually dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for fuel, food and cash, but intelligence reports confirmed that Pyongyang has not kept its part of the bargain. President Donald Trump bluntly said, “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?  Clinton failed, Bush failed, Obama failed.”

Although many are criticizing Donald Trump for his brash words and his “undiplomatic” ways, there are also those who are convinced that there is actually a method to this unorthodox style of containing North Korea’s belligerence. Interestingly, China – which has been described as the “lifeline” of North Korea since it accounts for 90 percent of trade – is gradually imposing more painful economic sanctions. Last February, China has suspended coal, iron and lead imports and also ordered North Korean businesses in China to close shop by January 2018 in support of new UN sanctions imposed last September.

There are many Americans who believe that Trump’s perspective and unorthodox style of diplomacy is what is needed during these times, pointing to the nuclear deal with Iran which Trump has criticized as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions” the US ever made. The 2015 deal was a draft preliminary agreement between Iran, the US, UK, France, Russia, China, Germany and the European Union wherein Iran promised to drastically cut down its nuclear program in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions imposed on it.

A US law says that every 90 days, the president must certify if Iran is compliant with the terms. Trump is not likely to certify the deal this October 15 – making the whole world uneasy especially the European Union that believes the deal was good.

I was supposed to leave for Washington, DC this week but I have been advised by the Protocol Office to delay my departure so I can properly schedule my credentials presentation to President Trump who has a very tight schedule in the coming weeks. The US of course is going through many domestic problems following the onslaught of hurricanes Harvey and Irma whose economic cost is estimated at over $100 billion, immigration issues including the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals or DACA program that will be suspended in March 2018, and the recent shooting rampage in Las Vegas that has killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds of others, among many.

As I have not yet officially assumed my post as Ambassador to the US, I will be joining the ASEAN summit as Special Envoy since my earlier appointment as such is still in effect until the end of the year. By the way, for many of my readers who have been asking – I do plan to continue my Sunday column from Washington – which will focus mostly about our work in DC, the Filipino communities in the United States and of course, perspectives regarding our bilateral relations with the US. 

*      *      *

I’m so glad I’ll have a chance to watch another exciting Ateneo-La Salle basketball game today at the Mall of Asia Arena. So many of our friends especially from the diplomatic corps are actually looking forward to this game. Even those who did not go to any of these two schools are anticipating another exciting basketball game because no matter how strong each team is supposed to be, one never really knows who will win – “talagang bilog ang bola.”

In appreciation of my dear schoolmates from both La Salle and Ateneo who have given me a warm sendoff, I will “diplomatically” wear a blue and green shirt. Fight Ateneo! Animo La Salle!

*      *      *

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

 

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