WITH the Philippines’ allowing US military forces to use as bases-on-demand nine civilian and military facilities as their platforms for a war with China, Filipino diplomats went to Washington last week excited that they could get something in return from the Americans in the so-called third Ministerial Dialogue of defense and foreign affairs officials of both countries.
They got nothing. Philippine diplomats were pushing for a commitment from the US to undertake talks for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would lower or abolish tariff and non-tariff barriers on exports to the US.
After all, the US has free trade agreements with 14 other countries, with all except South Korea not functioning as the Americans’ platforms for war. After all, former president Trump in his visit to Manila 2017 announced: “The United States welcomed the Philippines’ interest in a bilateral free trade agreement and both sides agreed to discuss the matter further through the United States-Philippines TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement).”
Last year, then-Trade and Industry secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines and the United States can further boost their economic ties through a free trade agreement. Lopez said while the country is waiting for the renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) from the US government, the Philippine government hopes to push FTA discussions with the US.
“We hope to strengthen our relationship beyond the GSP and graduate towards an FTA that would provide a long-term, rules-based, and predictable trade environment for our two nations,” he said.
The draft joint statement okayed by the Philippines in last week’s “Ministerial Dialogue” had a statement that the US and the Philippines will “convene more regularly the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Meetings… and continue laying the groundwork for an eventual bilateral FTA.”
Without even explaining why, the US officials deleted that reference to the FTA, and the next day, the US State Department Office of the Spokesperson issued the “Joint Statement of the US-Philippines 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue” totally without any reference to US helping the Philippine economy.
Nearly half of the 2,600-word statement dealt with the US propaganda line of China’s “unlawful maritime” claims and how the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement would be a boon to the Philippines security. The statement reaffirmed the Philippine government’s support for US foreign policy. It “condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s unprecedented number of unlawful and reckless ballistic missile launches over the past year and reaffirmed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.”
As if scolding the government that “No means no,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai was in Manila over the weekend and said in a talk with media that an FTA with the Philippines was no longer on the negotiating table. “We’re no longer doing “traditional FTA,” she said. “We’re not currently negotiating any such agreements with trading partners in particular because we do not see that traditional [FTA] being appropriate for the types of challenges and opportunities that we’re facing right now,” she claimed.
The so-called “ministerial dialogue” was simply the modern equivalent of representatives of a subjugated tribe of Filipinos trooping to Imperial Rome reaffirming its vassalage. Our representatives forgot that vassals can’t make pleas to the Emperor.
Not a threat, but a reality
Formerly anti-Marcos nationalist communist-linked front Gabriela as well as the likes of Sen. Riza Hontiveros went to town screaming at the Chinese ambassador’s statement in a speech at the forum of the Association for Philippine China Friendship last week:
“The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose Taiwan independence rather than stoking the fire by opposing the US access of the military bases near the Taiwan strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 OFWs [in that island].
Sinophobes jumped to claim that the ambassador made a threat that China would somehow undertake moves that would hurt our 150,000 OFWs if the Philippines supports Taiwanese independence. But to interpret the statement that way means one is so grossly ignorant of the situation and/or fails to use logic.
In the first place, the 150,000 OFWs are in the self-governing, US-defended Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China. Taiwan is not part of the People’s Republic of China, dummy, not yet at least, and the burning question now is whether the latter would soon attack the former to put it under its flag.
China is not in a position to harm our 150,000 OFWs. It of course cannot convince Taiwan to order the OFWs deported.
Secondly, before that statement, the ambassador said: “Some tried to find excuse for the new EDCA sites by citing the safety of the 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan” (The text of the speech can be accessed at the Chinese embassy’s website.)
It is quite obvious what the ambassador meant was the following:
“One justification for the EDCA sites is that these would be a deterrent for China to invade Taiwan and incorporate it as its province. But US officials, even President Biden himself, have said that the US will defend the Taiwanese with all its military might if China attempts to invade Taiwan. But Chinese leaders, even Xi Jinping himself, have also declared that China will integrate its “rogue province” into the mainland someday, even if by force.
The ambassador is obviously saying that a war between US and China, would undoubtedly put our 150,000 OFWs there in harm’s way. So it is better for the Philippines not to help such a war happening, which it is doing by assisting the US prepare for such a conflict through the EDCA sites, several of which are clearly for the US military to go to Taiwan at a moment’s notice.
The ambassador would definitely be making a condemnable threat; he instead had referred not to 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan but to a similar number of OFWs in Hongkong and Macao, whose governments Beijing controls.
The Chinese ambassador was not making a threat, but just pointing out the reality of our 150,000 OFWs being put in harm’s way and evacuated to the Philippines in case of a Taiwan war.
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