Pivot Your Expectations


Rodrigo Duterte is no Emilio Aguinaldo, but he sure can stir things up.


“Hey, watch this!”

In what I suppose is the capstone of the past few weeks’ bellicosity toward the West, Philippine President Duterte made his grand visit to China, who feted him with parades, banquets and all the great perks of a state visit normally reserved for only the most important allies, or possibly Elvis.

The sure-to-be-most-quoted presidential line from the event was “I announce my separation from the United States. I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you [China] for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us.”

Interesting use of the first-person pronoun; given the depth of Filipino-American connections over the decades, I’m skeptical such policies will survive his administration (so many U.S. veterans live there we have a VA clinic in Manila!). Nevertheless, it’s something we have to deal with in the here and now.

Given this opening, opportunity has immediately come knocking for China – Typhoon Haima just slammed into the northern Philippine islands with gusts up to 176 mph. As of this writing, the storm is still active and actually is heading towards the Chinese mainland.

Sounds like a good time to haul out the hospital ship China is so proud of, as well as any other assets that can support a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) mission to the PI. Duterte’s going to ask for help; China can answer the call.

No doubt the U.S. will try to do the same, as the Japan-based Seventh Fleet is often called to do. But we can only go if we’re invited, and even if that happens, it’s doubtful the Philippine government will offer much in the way of thanks – which makes this problematic. Foreign aid does not function like almsgiving, where Jesus tells his followers to give in secret, and not let the left hand know what the right is doing. In international relations, there is no sense in providing humanitarian assistance if no one sees you do it! While there is intrinsic good to feeding the hungry, such disasters are also (rather cynically) like an Oscar party – a place to see and be seen. You can bet the Chinese will be seen rather prominently, whereas the U.S., if brought in to help at all, will be portrayed by the host government as having a muted presence.

So how’s that Pivot to the Pacific working? This week it has become more important than ever, but simultaneously more difficult to execute than any time since 1945.

Don’t worry – it’s nothing SMOD can’t fix.


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