FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana have, in just two months’ time, become United States President Donald Trump’s spokesmen in Asia, loudly reciting in this part of the world one of his key campaign messages to Americans for them to reelect him in November — that he is, and will be, tough on China.
Trump himself inadvertently revealed his campaign messaging in a speech on July 14: “So, Joe Biden and President [Barack] Obama freely allowed China to pillage our factories, plunder our communities and steal our most precious secrets.”
“I’ve stopped it largely,” he added.
Trump not only thinks bashing China would endear him to his racist base, but as well as to big businesses fearful of Chinese economic power. US intelligence have reported publicly that while Russia is rooting for him, the Chinese aren’t. And this is one US president who pursues petty hurts.
Locsin and Lorenzana have thrown to the wastebasket their principal President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign-policy stance since the start of his administration, that China is foremost a friend and an ally in the region and that our territorial disputes with the superpower, including the arbitration suit his predecessor brought against it, should be shelved.
More diplomatic than our top diplomat, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said on Friday when I asked him if Duterte had changed his foreign policy toward China: “President Duterte is the chief architect of our country’s foreign policy. He charted an independent foreign policy course, with our national interest at the core.”
Sen.Christopher Lawrence Go, in reply to the same question, said: “I am not aware that the President has changed his stance towards China.”
Locsin and Lorenzana’s junking of Duterte’s foreign policy and advocacy of dependency on the US is so shameful in that their hostile statements against China were made exactly on cue with US declarations and actions. Never mind that we are in the midst of a pandemic in which China’s help — whether through a vaccine or other medical equipment and treatment — would save thousands of Filipino lives.
On July 13, US State Secretary Michael Pompeo, implementing Trump’s election messaging program, in an official statement accused China of being a “maritime imperialist in the South China Sea, bullying the states around it.” That was a drastic change in US official policy since the 1950s, which is that it is neutral in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
On the same day, Locsin issued almost exactly similar statements lambasting China for not complying with the award of the arbitral panel in the country’s suit against China, which he even declared as “non-negotiable” — when it is merely an arbitration award the Philippines can even on its own junk if it sees that that would be better for its national interest.
Defense Secretary Lorenzana on the same day echoed Pompeo’s statements by declaring that “China should heed the call of the community of nations” to comply with the arbitral award. That statement should be another reminder to him to stick to his job, which is over military matters, and not open his mouth beyond his competence and authority, such as foreign policy. Only seven countries (the US and its lapdogs) are demanding that China comply with the award and 187 have simply ignored it, according to a survey by the pro-US Asia Maritime Transparency Institute.
Pompeo announced to the world what should have been a confidential phone conversation. The State Department’s deputy spokesman disclosed August 6 in a press briefing — and posted in its website — that “Pompeo called Locsin to discuss the recent change in US policy on maritime claims in the South China Sea.”
Locsin I’d bet was clueless that he was being played. The US secretary of state sent the impression to China and the world that he could ask Locsin to say something against China and he would ask, “When?”
Locsin, feeling so important that he talked to the foreign affairs secretary of the most powerful nation on earth, even revealed a few days later: “I was talking to the secretary of state and there are things that are not yet ripe for revelation.” He in effect told the world: “I and Pompeo have secret plans against China, but I’m not telling you yet.” What a talkative diplomat.
Pompeo apparently succeeded so well in fooling Locsin and Lorenzana that the two went overboard in their newfound jobs as spokesmen for Trump’s I’m-tough-on-China campaign messaging.
The US on August 26 announced sanctions and restrictions on 24 Chinese companies and associated officials that it claimed took part in building artificial islands in the reefs in the Spratlys that China claims and occupies.
Analysts saw that move as absurd, as no court nor authorized international body has determined, nor can ever determine, which of the four claimants of features in the Spratlys — the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia — has legitimate sovereignty over these reefs. As far as China is concerned, therefore, it was simply building things on their sovereign territory, with the US meddling in an area it does not have any business at all. All of the claimants, including us, have since the 1970s been building structures on islands and reefs they have occupied.
Yet Locsin didn’t even bother to ask his staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs to study the US’ unprecedented move. Nor did he clear his statement with the chief architect of our foreign policy, Duterte.
The morning after the US announcement, Locsin in an interview with CNN Philippines said haughtily: “If I find that any of those companies are doing business with us, then I would strongly recommend we terminate that relationship with that company. If they were in any way involved in the reclamation, then it becomes consistent on our part to terminate any contract with them.”
Oops. One of the Chinese firms the US has “blacklisted,” which Pompeo himself singled out, is the state-owned China Communications Construction Co. listed in the Hong Kong stock market, which if its subsidiaries are included, make up the biggest foreign investor in several big-ticket infrastructure projects in the country that would cost up to $100 billion.
Its biggest project here, launched in February and in joint venture with the Lucio Tan-owned Macroasia, will be the expansion of the Sangley Point International Airport to include four terminals, which is part of Duterte’s Build, Build, Build program. Just on the say-so of the Americans, Locsin would lobby for the scrapping of billion-dollar projects here involving these Chinese firms?
The US move is so absurd. It would sanction firms that are merely the contractors for a government project. Does the US think that these firms — mostly state-owned firms — would no longer participate in Chinese government projects which the US would later on claim to be involved in China’s “maritime imperialism”?
Roque in a diplomatic way said the other day that Locsin is dead wrong: “ The Chief Executive’s main consideration is what is best for the country’s Build, Build, Build program.”
But it gets worse.
The day the US announced the blacklisting of the Chinese firm, Locsin revealed that Pompeo told him in their phone conversation: “[But if] something happens that is beyond incursion but is in fact an attack on, say a Filipino naval vessel…[that] means then I call up Washington, DC,” he added. Who does Locsin think he is? He calls up Washington to ask the Americans to bomb the Chinese?
With that, an anti-Duterte South China Morning Post writer, Alan Robles, headlined his article: “‘If China attacks our Navy, we’ll call the US,’ Philippines says.”
Locsin portrayed to the world that the Philippines is just a phone call away from US military succor in case conflict erupts between the Philippines and China, and that Pompeo assured him of this. Locsin is our first foreign affairs secretary to announce to the world that we, an independent nation since July 4, 1946, remains a US protectorate.
Rather than wasting his executive time twitting on every issue under the sun and spitting curses there, Locsin should spend more time studying the South China issue and its history.
As early as 1971, China warned President Ferdinand Marcos that it wouldn’t allow a Filipino-Swedish-US consortium to drill for oil in the Reed Bank. When Marcos asked the US if it would intervene in case the Chinese attacked his navy escorting the oil drill ships, he was told that no, the Mutual Defense Treaty involves only an attack on “metropolitan” Philippines, not on a Navy ship in disputed waters.
President Corazon Aquino’s officials asked the same thing in 1988 when China occupied seven reefs in the Spratlys, their first attempt to establish Beijing’s claims in the area. The US said no, we can’t help you.
President Fidel Ramos asked the same thing in 1995 when the Chinese built a structure on Mischief Reef. The US said no. US officials instead suggested to Ramos to transport he international press to the area and have helicopters fly them over Mischief Reef to take photos, which would create global outrage against China, especially if some trigger-happy Chinese militia stationed there would down the choppers, and kill the journalists. (That didn’t happen, and I’m certainly glad, as I rode those helicopters.)
And the most recent case was when President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario went to Washington, DC in 2012 to ask Obama to intervene in the Scarborough Shoal stand-off against the Chinese. They asked him to deploy US warships to the disputed area as a message to China that it can’t attack our ships. Obama refused, and his officials instead fooled Aquino and del Rosario into withdrawing our vessels there — claiming they had an agreement with China to simultaneously vacate the area when they didn’t — and consequently lose our hold on it.
Lorenzana should take his eyes off China as an imminent enemy and focus instead on the Islamic State and the Abu Sayyaf — and maybe we would prevent future horrific bombings such as those that killed 14 Filipinos and injured 75 others last week. Locsin should quarantine himself and study what the arbitration suit and our territorial disputes with China are all about.
Or did he and Lorenzana believe rumors of Duterte’s failing health and started thinking that they better switch to the Yellow narrative of our relationship with China?
On Wednesday: Debunking Locsin and Lorenzana’s claims regarding the South China Sea disputes