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Americas’ Diminishing Role in the Global Stage

The impeachment of President Donald Trump brings home the sad reality that the United States has lost its footing in the global stage. The hot mic incident during the recent NATO Summit in the UK where France’s Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, UK’s Boris Johnson, and others who were heard making jokes about the US President and heartily laughing about it underscores the notion that America has become a laughing stock under this president.

Literally, the whole United Nation delegations were laughing at Trump months ago and the guy laughed with them while admitting that he didn’t know why everybody was laughing. Talking about karma, Trump used to repeat the mantra that the world was laughing at the US under President Barack Obama.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is enjoying the United States’ lack of foreign policy clarity, the disarray associated with the UK Brexit, the tit-for-tat between Germany, France, Canada against the United States on trade wars started by Trump; Ukraine brouhaha, missteps in the Middle East particularly with Syria and the Kurds, and of course, with the publication of the Afghanistan Papers.

But Putin is not the only one celebrating. China’s President Xi Jinping is equally ecstatic with Trump’s tortured foreign policy strategies, including what the US State Department Assistant Secretary David Stilwell and Department of Defense Mark Esper’s said in Manila earlier this month about the United States stance of a “pluralistic” Asia. Meaning, the United States will not force its allies and partners to choose between China and the United States.

This is a stunning reversal particularly in the South China Sea where the US has a valid national interest. Granted that Western navies continue their “Freedom of Navigation” (FON) flight/sails in the area, but it is not enough as we saw China imposed its will reclaiming lands and converting them into military outposts or bases.

Freedom of navigation is a principle of customary international law that ships flying the flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states, apart from the exceptions provided for in international law. China challenges sail-by’s by Western navies and nothing more comes of it. China, however, disregards this principle when it involves countries like the Philippines who are incapable of militarily responding in kind. There had been several ramming and other instances involving Filipino fishing boats in Philippine waters or islands belonging to the Philippines per United Nations arbitral ruling.

Consequently, we see a topsy-turvy foreign policy by countries like the Philippines whose leader is much like Donald Trump who lacks the gravitas or wherewithal to understand the intricacies of dealing with nations in the global stage. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is playing with fire dancing with the Russians and the Chinese because the Philippines cannot win in a shooting war. So, the old adage that “if you can’t beat them, join them” is exactly what Duterte is doing.

Duterte is not incompetent when it comes to foreign policy. He actually makes good sense with his new approach to dealing with China but his naiveté is preventing him from instituting the proper safeguards to ensure that the Philippines is not conned in the process. Frankly though, more learned Philippine presidents like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III were not able to prevent China from literally using Philippine soil harvested from Zambales mountains to build the very bases or military outposts that China built in the South China Sea, on islands/shoals or rocks that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) said belongs to the Philippines for economic purposes.

It is interesting to note that China has long practiced restraint on its foreign policy philosophy for decades. But the wily President Xi exploited the power vacuum that America created with Trump pulling out of the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that Obama brokered among 12 nations. Despite the US withdrawal from the agreement, the other eleven countries continued on with TPP without the United States.

Since then, China’s foreign policy philosophy under Xi has morphed into a design for world power and technological dominance. China’s Silk and Road Initiative is bringing countries like the Philippines into its fold. Trump’s trade war with the Chinese has backfired because before that President Xi has radically transformed its domestic policies thus shielding it from such economic attack. The mini trade deal that President Trump announced the other day is all the US can really get from this war especially with American farmers being greatly affected by the retaliatory moves China has effected in response to the tariffs the US imposed.

Trump is keeping his bravado regarding the trade war with China, but he is clearly treading water in confronting China because of his failure to lure the once TTP partners to join his trade crusade. Germany and France more specifically, are turned off by Trump’s antics at NATO. Even Japan and South Korea are learning to say “no” to Trump’s thuggish approach of making them pay for US protection, despite a defiant North Korea. Meanwhile, China is making inroads in Asia and Africa through its Silk and Road Initiative building military ports throughout Asia and the new military logistics base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

China’s 5G and 6G technology is revolutionizing the West through the state-owned Huawei but China will still need the US for it to achieve global economic prominence. Thus, this mini trade deal is really a concession from both sides in an effort not to rock the stock market. Besides, whether both countries like it or not, there are many other thorny issues requiring cooperation such as internet security, how 5G (or 6G) deployment in the United States can overcome security concerns, artificial intelligence, and other areas of potential conflict.

Meanwhile, the Philippines will have to rely on the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) to confront China’s expansionist moves. But there is concern that the ASEAN is losing its relevance in solving major issues peacefully primarily because China has its thumb on the scale. Many countries owing debt to China through projects funded by the Silk and Road Initiative, are afraid or reluctant to confront the Fiery Dragon.

One major issue, is China’s overly aggressive claims in the South China Sea involving the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Brunei. China is refusing to honor the Hague arbitral ruling by UNCLOS in favor of the Philippines. Major claimants are pushing the ASEAN to pass a Code of Code in the South China Sea that China has stymied in every turn for years. With a new and the second aircraft carrier now sailing international waters, China is foot dragging until all its plans in South China Sea is implemented while the United States is sidetracked with other issues.

This is a sad commentary for the ASEAN that the Philippines is currently chairing, because this body is really a success story with the peace and economic prosperity to the region. All that could evaporate if war is to break out in the South China Sea because of its rich petroleum reserve.

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