FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. told US officials in Washington that Filipinos “are no longer the little brown brothers of America” and appealed for mutual respect between allied nations.
“Don’t teach us about human rights,” Yasay said as he defended the government’s war on illegal drugs, which has claimed almost 3,000 lives since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.
The Philippines understands the sanctity of life and respects everyone’s rights and freedom, he said before the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
“The two countries should work within the premise of being sovereign equals,” Yasay said against the backdrop of strained relations over US criticism of the rising bodycount in Duterte’s war on drugs.
“We are asking our American friends and American leaders to look at our aspirations. We cannot be forever the little brown brothers of America (as we were) at one point in time. We have to mature, we have to develop, we have to grow,” Yasay said.
Yasay also said that the alliance between US and Philippines should not be conditional and insisted that the Philippines understands the sanctity of life and freedom, which led to the struggle for independence from America in the 1940s.
“You do not go to the Philippines and say, ‘I’m going to give you something. I’m going to help you develop, I’m going to help you grow. But these are the checklists you must comply with. We will lecture you on human rights.’ No. We know that our goal is toward the full respect for human rights in accordance with international norms,” Yasay said.
However, Yasay assured Washington of continued and strong relations, noting that the Philippines is one of America’s oldest and closest allies.
He added that the Philippines is committed to a defense cooperation agreement signed by the previous administration that will give US troops access to five Philippine military bases.
Yasay also said the Philippines will only discuss its territorial row with China on the basis of a recent international tribunal ruling supported by Washington.
Some of Yasay’s statements seemed at odds with Duterte’s recent declarations.
In less than three months on the job, the 71-year-old Duterte has used expletives in talking about US President Barack Obama and vowed to end cooperation with the US military in both fighting terrorism and patrolling the disputed South China Sea. He’s moved to boost economic and defense ties with China and Russia.
While Duterte is unpredictable —one day calling China “generous” and the next threatening a “bloody” war if Beijing attacked—his behavior has undermined US efforts to rally nations from Japan to Vietnam to Australia to stand up to China’s military assertiveness.
In doing so, he risks shifting from the 1951 Philippine-US defense treaty, which has been a bedrock of American influence in the region. While Duterte has said he’ll respect the alliance he’s repeatedly stressed the need for an “independent foreign policy” and questioned America’s willingness to intervene if China were to seize territory in the South China Sea.
“This could be the game changer for the South China Sea situation in general and Sino-US regional competition specifically,” said Zhang Baohui, director of the Center for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “Duterte’s foreign policy may dramatically shift the geo-strategic picture of the region, leaving China in an advantageous position versus the United States.”
One of the biggest benefits for China is the potential for a deal over the South China Sea.
Just weeks after Duterte took office in late June, an international arbitration panel ruled that China’s claims to most of the waterway had no legal basis—a win for the Philippines in a case brought by Duterte’s predecessor.
While Duterte has said he’ll respect the ruling, he’s signaled he’s open to talks with China, the country’s biggest trading partner, and he did not push for the ruling to be mentioned in the communique last week from a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Laos. Before taking office, he said he’d consider setting aside territorial disagreements to get a Chinese-built railway.
In July, Duterte sent former President Fidel Ramos to Hong Kong to explore common ground with China. Ramos later called for a bigger role for the Philippines under China’s plan to link ports and other trading hubs throughout Asia to Europe.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday that China is aware of reports on Duterte’s comments regarding military cooperation, but had no specifics. She said that China “will work with the Philippines to promote and renew normal exchanges and cooperation in different fields.”
Japan’s new defense minister said Thursday her nation would step up activity in the South China Sea, in comments made less than two weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Japan to “exercise caution” in the waters.
“Japan on its part will increase its engagement in the South China Sea through, for example, Maritime Self-Defense Force joint training cruises with the US Navy, bilateral and multi-lateral exercises with regional navies, as well as providing capacity building assistance to coastal nations,” Tomomi Inada said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
While not a claimant in the complex web of territorial disputes in the water bisected by vital shipping lanes, Japan has frequently urged all parties to adhere to international law and refrain from trying to change the status quo. Japan has also provided assistance to the coastguards and navies of Southeast Asian nations and has its own, separate territorial dispute with China.
In the speech at the Washington think tank on her first visit to the US as defense minister, Inada singled out China for its reclamation of land around maritime features in the water and expressed support for the US Navy’s freedom of navigation operations there.
“Coercive attempts to change the facts on the ground and upend the prevailing norms do not serve anybody’s interest,” she said. “Unfortunately, what China has been doing recently in the East China Sea and South China Sea is just that, and it is raising serious concern in the Asia-Pacific and beyond.”
Earlier this month, Xi met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the first time in almost a year and a half. During the discussions on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China, Xi said Japan should “exercise caution in its words and deeds” on the South China Sea issue, Xinhua news agency reported.
Inada, who last month became the second woman to be appointed Japan’s defense minister, is known for embracing causes that irritate Japan’s biggest trading partner. She is a frequent visitor to Yasukuni Shrine, seen by many in China as well as South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression in Asia.
In her speech, however, she also emphasized that the defense ministry would “keep the door open” for constructive dialogue with China, and that she was committed to accelerated talks on a maritime and air communication mechanism between the two countries to prevent unplanned collisions in disputed areas of the East China Sea. With Bloomberg