Instead of President Trump calling out President Duterte for the severity of his approach, President Trump moderated any criticism and said he understood that Duterte was confronting the problem the best way he knew how for his country.
That was in December of 2016.
Well, guess who is now the rotating (every year) Chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)?
Yup, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
And just yesterday, after a visit last week from Vice-President Pence, ASEAN announced:
Southeast Asian nations would adopt a softer than usual tone about South China Sea disputes at a leaders’ summit on Saturday in Manila, and exclude references to militarization or island-building, according to a draft of the chairman’s statement.
Although some Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders will express “serious concern” over the “escalation of activities” in the disputed sea, ASEAN will drop references, or even allusions, to China’s construction of artificial islands and the military hardware it has placed on them, according excerpts of the draft seen by Reuters. (link)
China has been expanding its seven man-made islands in the Spratlys (South China Sea) for several years, and the action has been a considerable point of angst for the region and for U.S. geo-political strategists in the former Obama administration.
However, despite the activity, and despite the protestations by the Obama White House and Obama State Department, the general consensus has been there’s nothing any nation can do about it because China exerts tremendous economic leverage in the entire region. Additionally, the man-made Islands are too far along for any substantive international efforts to thwart them.
The horse giant panda is now fully out of the barn.
There’s no President Trump policy capable of reversing the position of China in this action. Done is done. However, the international view of legitimacy around these islands still carries some major political leverage if applied toward a greater regional need of similar consequence.
Enter the need for the international community, and ASEAN specifically, to see North Korea pull-back from their doomsday nuclear ambitions…. and President Trump understanding that given the nature of entire issue – it all comes down to leveraging China, using complex terms of political currency, valuation and international legitimacy, against North Korea.
The Giant Panda can eliminate the problem that is Kim Jong Un.
ASEAN Chairman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, modifying the confrontational tone of Asian nations toward China is yet another useful carrot by U.S. President Trump to stimulate China’s increased pressure upon North Korea.
That’s a really big ‘get’ for President Xi Jinping.
...Again, a review of the activity timeline reveals a long-term strategic approach:
♦February 10th – President Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Abe at the White House and at Mar-a-Lago, w/both spouses, to discuss regional issues (including N-Korea).
♦February 27th – President Trump and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi meet in the White House Oval Office to discuss regional issues (including N-Korea).
♦March 15th – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Japan, South Korea and China to follow up on February’s conversations and discuss the forward path (including N-Korea).
♦April 6th and 7th – President Trump hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago where they discussed all of the critical bilateral and regional issues (including N-Korea). President Trump seeded the background by appointing Ambassador Terry Branstad, a 30-year personal friend of President Xi Jinping.
♦April 8th – Secretary Rex Tillerson debriefs the media. <– CRITICAL READ WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? For the first time ever, China did not support Russia in a U.N. Security Council veto vote surrounding Syria. China abstained. China turned around 12 fully loaded cargo ships laden with imported coal from North Korea. 400,000 metric tonnes refused unloading. China begins an embargo against North Korean coal. China begins importing coking coal for steel-making from the U.S. coal mines. Additionally, in furtherance of economic sanctions – China halts oil exports to North Korea. Additionally, in furtherance of political isolation – China halts direct flights between Beijing, China and Pyongyang, North Korea. And in the most stunning seismic shift of geo-political alliances, China says it is now open to discussions of a denuclearized North Korea, meaning getting rid of N-Korean nukes, WITHOUT N-Korea being included in the talks. Hello? China, the United States, Japan, Russia and South Korea discussing how to de-nuke North Korea. (A new Marshal Plan of sorts) ♦April 14th – President Trump announces policy directive to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that there’s no need to label China as a currency manipulator. ♦April 15th – Vice President Pence arrived in Asia for a ten day visit (South Korea, Japan, China, Indonesia, Australia); positioned as the steady, stable and reliable administration policy closer (including N-Korea). ♦April 23rd – President Trump followed up on Pence’s visit with personal phone calls to China’s President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; again, the topic was North Korea. ♦April 24th – U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley brings the U.N. Security Council to the White House for lunch with President Trump. The President spoke of the need for the U.N. to fulfill its original charter. ♦April 25th – ASEAN (Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte – rotating ASEAN Chairman) releases policy statement saying Southeast Asian nations agree to go easy on Beijing over South China Sea dispute. Although some Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders will express “serious concern” over the “escalation of activities” in the disputed sea, ASEAN will drop references, or even allusions, to China’s construction of artificial islands and the military hardware it has placed on them, according excerpts of the draft seen by Reuters. ♦April 26th – President Trump invites all U.S. Senators to the White House for a classified briefing on North Korea. ♦April 28th – (THIS FRIDAY) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be traveling to the U.N. to speak to the Security Council personally.
Read more here.