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The Long View

One country, two systems

As the saying goes, all politics is local. And it was as a local concern that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed an amendment to existing extradition rules. As the Financial Times reported, it was the murder in Taiwan, of a Hong Kong woman by her Hong Kong boyfriend (who then fled to Hong Kong to evade justice) that led to the proposal. It would have allowed the suspect to be extradited to Taiwan, but would also permit people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China.

Protests were the result, supported by the business community. Beijing at first welcomed the proposal; but when two massive protests took place on June 9 and 12, it declared the whole mess Lam’s idea (and, thus, responsibility). By the time Lam withdrew the proposal, it was too late: An even bigger protest took place on Sunday, with protesters declaring that 2 million had joined in. And such was the slowness of the authorities that people simply ran with that number, not even waiting for the Hong Kong police’s official estimates.

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In this manner, the local became geopolitical. Busy buying up gold in the open market, mired in a trade war with the United States, the People’s Republic of China cannot afford to be bogged down in a domestic controversy at this time. Bloomberg shrewdly reported that, after all, what the Hong Kong protesters achieved was the maintenance of the status quo, in which case Lam is expendable and Beijing loses not one iota of the authority it possessed before the protests.

Here at home, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana kicked things off by denouncing the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel, sandwiching the date between two politically inauspicious ones: The event took place on June 9 (Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day; the date of the sinking has subsequently been amended to June 10) and Lorenzana made noise on Independence Day, June 12, which the President spent being tardy for a late-afternoon ceremony. At that point, only the Coast Guard tried to be cautious, suggesting, meekly, that they were trying to find out if the vessel was in fact Chinese. The Department of Foreign Affairs later said it had filed a diplomatic protest. The Palace added it was possible for the Philippines to cut diplomatic ties with China over the incident, and that the President was “outraged.”

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Then the backpedaling began. Lorenzana reportedly wavered (he only said an investigation has to take into account all angles, and helpfully absolved Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day of tragic association with the sinking, since he said it happened at midnight), but others went the whole hog. The Navy paraded the rescued crew before the cameras, with officers, in easy chairs and freshly ironed, brand-new camo uniforms, beaming, while the miserable-looking crew in “NAVY” t-shirts looked like they were making clenched-fist gestures at gunpoint.

The Federation Of Filipino Chinese Chambers Of Commerce & Industry Inc. held a well-meaning presser to offer aid to the fishermen but couched in such Beijing-friendly language (“not assigning guilt to any party”) as to be completely counterproductive. Not least because the Chinese Embassy in Manila blundered by issuing a statement it later took down from its social media (our Navy chief had pointedly disputed its assertion that the incident was a “normal” one).

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who happens to be vice chair of the (supposedly) ruling PDP-Laban party (which celebrated its 2018 anniversary with the Chinese ambassador as Cusi’s seatmate and the launching of a book by Xi Jinping), was dispatched to corral the fishermen and bring them to Manila to make dramatic clenched-fist gestures in the presence of the President. Instead, the fishermen leaked to the press that in a closed-door meeting, Cusi told them that perhaps it wasn’t an intentional ramming since the stern of the Filipino vessel was hit.

Then, after Cusi announced there was going to be an emergency Cabinet meeting, the Cabinet secretary, Karlo Nograles, announced the President had other plans, which in turn led the wife of Junel Insigne, the Filipino captain, to phone her husband to go home instead of meeting the President in Manila. Which he did, leading the Palace to weakly announce no meeting had been planned, anyway.

It was as the saying goes — bad optics all around, in marked contrast to how the Vietnamese who rescued the soaked Filipino crew put it: “Vietnam. Philippines. Friends.” Or the American ambassador, who told the press that attacks by militia or armed civilians sanctioned by their governments in the South China Sea may trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty of the United States and the Philippines.

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TAGS: Alfonso Cusi, Carrie Lam, China, Delfin Lorenzana, extradition bill, Hong Kong protests, Junel Insigne, Manuel L. Quezon III, Recto Bank incident, Reed Bank incident, Rodrigo Duterte, The Long View
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