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A clever strategy?

/ 12:14 AM December 08, 2016

He came to office as a maverick, an out-of-the-box thinker that abhorred traditional-politician thinking and nonaction. A fierce nationalist, fiercely independent, he captures a public mood that is burgeoning in much of the world. Brexit is taking England into isolationism. Erdogan is turning Turkey into a dangerous Islamic nationalism. India is still outward-looking but is led by Narendra Modi, who has ties to radical ethnic-nationalist Hindu groups that preach chauvinism and intolerance. If he treads that path, he joins the march away from globalization that has done the world so much good.

If France’s Marine Le Pen wins and pulls out of the European Union, as she’s promised, the EU is threatened with collapse. Chinese nationalism is on the rise as people struggle to rise above a century of humiliating occupation and assert an independence and hegemony in Asia and the world. In Poland and Hungary, power has passed to xenophobic ultranationalists.

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In America, Donald Trump promises he will “no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.” The Economist raised the growing fear: “For the first time since [World War II], the great and rising powers are simultaneously in thrall to various sorts of chauvinism. Like Mr. Trump, leaders of countries such as Russia, China and Turkey embrace a pessimistic view that foreign affairs are often a zero-sum game in which global interests compete with national ones. It is a big change that makes for a more dangerous world.” If Trump follows through on his election rants even the World Trade Organization’s existence is threatened. And if he withdraws military support from those under threat, he risks creating a very unstable world. This is ethnic nationalism. In the first half of the last century it led to war. These countries are playing a dangerous game particularly the big three: America, China, Russia.

Much of the world’s peoples want a new world order and new leadership of their countries. And politicians still haven’t got it. As the Economist said: “One by one, liberal democracies are waking up to find their certainties trampled by the march of close-the-borders populism. First came the vote for Brexit, then Donald Trump’s election as America’s next president. Now France is bracing itself for a momentous presidential vote in 2017 in which the stakes could not be higher—not just for the wellbeing of France, but for the future of Europe itself.”

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The world’s open markets are under serious threat.

In this destabilizing world, Rodrigo Duterte has taken the Philippines by the neck and shaken it. The people love it; just ask around. The world has taken notice—CNN, the Economist, New York Times, so many more. Now not favorably, but that doesn’t matter. Capturing attention is the first step, acceptance the second. If he plays it right that could now happen.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration declared China does not have rights to virtually the whole China Sea. China took no notice—and stopped Filipinos from fishing, explorers from exploring for oil. America should have come out to back the Philippine claim. Taking territory belonging to another is an act of war, and the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty assures the Philippines of US support in time of war. But America withheld support. Mr. Duterte was furious. Add the 70 years of underlying subservience Filipinos still felt in their relationship with America, and which US leaders acted on. Mr. Duterte knew it was time for change.

If you can’t beat them, join them. Be friends with China, and how better to denounce a common “enemy”? And why not befriend that other world enemy—Russia—while you’re at it? It worked.

China’s Coast Guard no longer stops Filipinos from fishing. Joint exploration for offshore oil is now on the cards. And Trump wins—with friendly calls to Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

Is it a new world order where the Philippines could be well positioned? I expect PH-US relations will settle down in the coming years as Mr. Duterte settles more into an “international” mode, and he and Trump meet after a friendly phone chat. So the Philippines keeps most of what it wants from America, while adding China and Russia to its mix.

Did he luck out? A prescient strategy? Whichever, it augurs well for this nation in 2017 and beyond.

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E-mail: [email protected]   Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com

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