The Long View: Washington passes baton to Tokyo


Washington passes baton to Tokyo


Some weeks ago in an informal conversation, a Chinese Filipino gentleman from the older generation shook his head about the backward state of our national infrastructure and suggested, “We should allow China to take over building our infrastructure.” I laughed and only half-jokingly replied, “Be careful what you wish for. If the Mongols conquered China and became culturally Chinese, you might find the Chinese taking over here and becoming Filipino instead. Then where would they be?” The old gentleman laughed, saying “I never thought of it that way.”

I mentioned I was only half-joking because of an observation I’ve made several times in this space. It’s the surprising resilience of Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) despite strong pressure from the Chinese government to crack down on them. If you want to see what China’s idea of cooperation in this regard is, you only have to look at Cambodia (a truly reliable ally to China as its repeated disagreements with the Philippines in Asean meetings over the past years have shown). Once Beijing expressed displeasure with Pogos operating in Sihanoukville, the Cambodian government quickly, and thoroughly, stamped their operations out. In the case of our own country, the beneficiaries of Pogo activities represent a big swathe of the sectors that matter, locally and nationally, starting with the upper and middle classes whose real properties are rented out by the Pogos who are appreciated for paying not just cash, but months, even years, in advance; the same applies to owners of commercial spaces and only then does one start tackling the large number of permit- and protection-granting agencies and entities, local and national, formal and informal, who feast on the Pogos. Neither Manila nor Beijing, as governments, can offer enough inducements to counter it.

One could even go as far as considering the obvious difference in opinion between the President and his eldest sister, over China, to be a manifestation of which one feels the tug of local interest more than national concerns. After all, what Sen. Imee Marcos has breezily referred to as “the grand duchy” (their home province) in private, is more fully in her, than her brother’s, hands: her son is governor, his is congressman. And the senator-eldest sister herself speculated her brother’s sons are destined for places further afield from China than their home province. One son, she said last June, is destined for public office in Iloilo, and the other, curiously enough, possibly for public office in Mindanao.

On April 11, the President will materialize in Washington at the invitation of United States President Joe Biden, to engage in summitry with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in Washington at the conclusion of a state visit. The optics of the summit will be interesting because it really marks the debut of our President as chief diplomat; the optics of his previous visit were less about the present or the future as it was a kind of dynastic “mission accomplished”: the restored heir in the footsteps of the patriarch. That the host was an American president who, as an American senator, had helped neutralize then President Ronald Reagan’s steadfast support of the elder Marcos, added to that moment of dynastic validation.But this time, the dynastic checklist’s boxes have been ticked, and debts to the patriarch’s memory duly paid. This time, it’s Marcos Jr. who matters and increasingly so, both for the West and East Asia if not, as much, for Asean. His increased, even increasing, importance, the product of not only getting expert advice but listening to it, suffers from one limitation, which is uncertainty over American resolve. The onset of the presidential campaign in America means the lasting nature of any presidential commitment is only as good as that president’s term of office, but American institutions are still resilient enough to be binding in terms of policies already in place: such as, as the White House recently described the coming agenda for talks between the two leaders, “efforts to expand cooperation on economic security, clean energy, people-to-people ties, and human rights and democracy.” This is the kind of benediction that can be lasting, even from an incumbent who could suffer defeat in November. Japan for its part, broke with precedent when its prime minister chose not to offer a ritual apology for World War II when addressing the US Congress, a bold symbolic move following even bolder policies such as embracing arms exports (with South Korea now increasingly a strategic partner, both nations promise to be the most crucial Philippine partners for military modernization, for example), as it emerges from America’s shadow to assert leadership in the region.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.