"We have a long history of presidents seeking ever-friendlier relations with China."
Last week, the President caught us by surprise during his virtual address to the UN General Assembly when he unequivocally asserted our maritime rights, stating that “we firmly reject attempts to undermine [the 2016 Arbitral Award under UNCLOS].”
But what also surprised me was the bafflement expressed by many observers. Could this be the same Duterte whom they’ve pilloried as a Chinese puppet? These people obviously never understood—or believed—his stated intention from the very start: To tilt the country away from the US towards an independent foreign policy course.
The tilt toward China had to be aggressive initially, following after the PNoy administration that was—to quote another former president, PGMA—the lone exception in a long history of Philippine presidents seeking ever-friendlier relations with China.
PNoy’s suing for the arbitral award was arguably a case of undue provocation and bad timing. But now that it’s in hand, Duterte is obliged to use it to his advantage. Building on what’s been left behind by previous administrations is another statesmanly practice—except, again, in the case of PNoy--“Boy Sisi”—who put his predecessor in jail on charges that were all later repudiated by the justice system.
Now that he’s delivered his salvo, Duterte is once again tacking in the other direction, by refusing to ask the UN General Assembly to put China’s actions to a vote. It’s back to the high-wire balancing act for him.
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A couple of days after the UN event, I attended a webinar sponsored by the Association for Philippines China Understanding (APCU), which goes back to China’s Maoist years. When asked about the Duterte speech, Chinese Ambassador Huang blandly replied that the maritime issue was but a small part of an overall productive relationship that could still flourish even while the issue is unresolved.
This will not please those who prefer to bay for blood. But it’s the only way forward, given our own capabilities and requirements in relation to China.
The Chinese are grabbing those islands of ours, not to invade us, but mainly to build deterrence against the powerful navies of the US and its allies. It’s a face-off into which we’ve been forced to participate simply because of geography. And if other issues come up—such as fishing rights, or access to our undersea mineral wealth—our negotiating stance will benefit from a warmer, instead of colder, relationship with our adversary.
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Last Sunday I chanced across a video of US President Trump as he introduced his latest nominee to the US Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on the White House lawn.
Judge Barrett will be replacing the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who came to be idolized for shattering so many glass ceilings against women lawyers, but who also became the High Court’s leading defender of abortion.
The new nominee topped her law school class at Notre Dame and went on to clerk for the brilliant conservative justice, the late Antonin Scalia. As a mother of seven, including two adopted Haitians and a special child, Judge Barrett if confirmed by the US Senate will become the first justice with school-age children.
But because she is Catholic as well as conservative, Barrett’s confirmation is bound to be a very rocky one. Expect all the lefty liberals—especially in mainstream media—to gang up on her. We can only hope that the Republican majority in the Senate will stand their ground.
This battle ought to matter for those who believe that the rights invoked by abortionists—the right to liberty and the penumbral right to privacy—are far less important than the right to life, which is cited first in the US Declaration of Independence. Reordering its priorities in the right direction will go a long, long way towards reversing the immorality that sadly informs so much of American culture today.
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In today’s Gospel (Jn 1: 47-51), the apostle Philip tries to recruit one Nathanael to follow the Nazarene. Nathanael sarcastically asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” But he goes along with Philip.
Jesus sees him coming and comments, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” When Nathanael asks Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael then exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
The absence of duplicity in Nathanael opened his mind and heart to the immediate understanding of Jesus’ Divinity. When we’re not busy deceiving ourselves—about what kind of creatures we are, the reality of our sins and shortcomings, the fallenness of the world to which we are forced by earthly life to conform—then we open the way for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us with grace.
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