Friday, September 09, 2016

ASEAN's Yawning Disinterest...

Regional leaders at the Asean summit in Vientiane, Laos [Reuters]
Philippines released photos purportedly showing Chinese vessels near a disputed chain of reefs and rocks in the South China Sea. Still from video
"For most ASEAN leaders, Duterte represents a throwback to an uglier and more brutal form of Asian state, which taints ASEAN efforts to market itself as an increasingly progressive, modernizing trade block with a focus on trade data, rather than daily police-killing body counts."
Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch, New York

"[He] is a rock star not only in our country but also in other countries like Laos, Japan."
"[This could be seen in] how the other foreign ministers and delegates have scrambled to get a selfie with our president."
Martin Andanar, Philippines presidential spokesman

"We will continue to work to ensure that disputes are resolved peacefully, including in the South China Sea. [The international arbitration ruling on July 12 against China was binding and] helped to clarify maritime rights in the region."
"I realize this raises tensions but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together."
U.S. President Barack Obama
Regional leaders at the Asean summit in Vientiane, Laos [Reuters]
Regional leaders at the Asean summit in Vientiane, Laos [Reuters]
The ten leaders of the ASEAN countries are concerned about China's territorial claims overlapping their own in the South China Sea, but this is a powerful neighbour, and stirring a hornet's nest is not seen to be in anyone's interest. Perhaps of more concern is China's little proxy which considers itself a world player and exults in stirring fear and trepidation in its neighbours, in challenging the United States despite chiding from China to take a break from its ballistic missiles exchange with Iran and its nuclear detonation provocations.

Their concern about China is a muted one, even though China seems as impervious to criticism over its 'inalienable right' to claim territory disputed by the very fact that it is far from its coastline, and impinges on the territorial integrity of its neighbours' near coastlines. Pyongyang has ardently fashioned its incessant flaunting of intentions to threaten South Korea, Japan and the U.S. after the manner in which China feels free to do.

And now, ASEAN has a hero among them, an old-style dictator whose methodology in confronting challenges to his authority hearks back to the good old days when tyrants could just expunge the nuisance of challenges. Which is precisely what Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines' new president has set about doing, to cleanse his country of drug lords and terrorists. Baldly giving expression to free reign for his national police to kill at will any suspects, without fear of legal repercussion.

President Duterte hugely relishes the awe in which he is held by his ASEAN partners, and will not countenance the delicacy of feelings expressed by an American president that justice must prevail, not vigilante action, killing people at random excess. He sees himself in the ASEAN coalition as an equal of exceptional will and capability among thugs. Enjoying his coarsely villainous reputation, which gives him great pleasure to flaunt.

His popularity among Philippines -- who have accepted that people will die, and sometimes innocent people, for the greater good of cleaning up the country -- is at a declared high. Public satisfaction with his agenda gives him all the support he needs. The two thousand who have been executed as drug dealers and users appears just to his extra-judicial experience. And the over 600,000 who have surrendered out of fear of being gunned down, just validates for him the success of his faultless reasoning.

And his reasoning leads him to believe that if he can threaten and insult the pope, in Catholic-dominated Philippines and suffer no consequences, the United Nations secretary-general with no backlash, then President Obama of the United States can just fume as much as he likes at the insult when Mr Duterte spoke of him as a "son of a bitch" whose warnings insulted the integrity and sovereignty of the Philippines.

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