posted June 06, 2018 at 12:00 am
by  Lito Banayo
French President Emmanuel Macron was so incensed with American President Donald Trump’s latest tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from practically all countries, that he called it “illegal” and practically called it a declaration of “war,” recalling how the wars of the previous century began with protectionism in the guise of nationalism.

The G-7 meeting last week saw the US representative, Treasury’s Steven Mnuchin confronted by his counterparts over his president’s hardening on tariffs.

Bruno Le Maire, Macron’s finance and economy minister who was previously the agriculture minister of Nicholas Sarkozy, described the Whistler conference as “a tense and tough G-7…more a G6 plus one than a G7”.

Trump’s America First policy is closer and closer to being isolationist, and angry trade partners are likely to retaliate. It does look like a trade war is in the offing.  That is not good for the world economy.  It may give short-term relief for Pittsburgh and Ohio but in the end, the US economy will be negatively affected.  There will be disruptions in supply chains all over the world, and that would affect even a developing country like the Philippines, whose economic zones are part, albeit still small, of the global supply chain.

 In China recently to press for greater imports of American goods, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross came out with neither specifics nor a commitment.  No joint statement was issued.

Both the US and China appear to have hardened their negotiating stances.

A full-blown China-US trade war is not unlikely.

Is there any advantage for a small country like the Philippines, whose main exports are either fruits or electronic parts which are dependent on imported raw materials and whose value-added is mainly labor? Hardly.  

When China, the EU, Canada and others retaliate versus Trump’s isolationist economic policies, how do we step in to fill even a part of the imports they will cut from the US of A?

“War” whether it involves arms or economic weapons is never good for anyone.

* * *

On a positive note, it is good that we will soon have a national ID.  It makes life and day-to-day transactions more convenient.  It makes government monitoring and statistical measurements both more efficient and transparent.  

For years on end, this single personal referencing system has been proposed, principally by Senator Ping Lacson, but it only became possible, with the opposition this time less strident and confined to the Left, in the time of Duterte.

A lot of things that did not seem possible before are happening now.  Change has begun.

* * *

Those who keep needling Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano for his statements on the West Philippine Sea conflict with China’s competing nine-dash line on its South China Sea need to answer a basic question:  will “victory” in the Permanent Court of Arbitration ensure compliance by the other side?

And connected to that, can we assume that our long-standing “ally,” the United States, would assist us in pressing the “victory” of our claims?  Just look at how the Trump administration is thrashing its trading partners now in order to “strengthen” its domestic economy and appease America’s business and labor.

Look at how US Defense Secretary James Mattis was less than equivocal at committing military assistance to Asean claimants in the recent Singapore confab, beyond the usual condemnatory words over China’s SCS activities.

There are political realities that we have to come to terms with, and President Duterte fully realizes these.  The “victory” at The Hague is pyrrhic unless we have the military muscle to confront China.  Sad though that realization may be, it is the painful reality.

Will the United Nations send peacekeeping forces to the South China Sea, where no lives are at stake?  Think about what is happening in Syria now, where all the world except Russia condemns the Assad regime, but Syria has not blinked.

Do we expect China to blink, no matter what the UN says, and our Filipino “bravehearts” bellicosely proclaim?

Two generations ago, we had military muscle, enough at least to “invade” Sabah, which the Sultanate of Sulu leased to the British who at that time still ruled the several sultanates they called Malaya. But for political fiddling, we did not use that muscle.  Now that Malaysia has become a federation and it has invested enough in a strong military, not to mention a stronger economy, we cannot even press our claim on territory that is truly worth re-claiming.

We can bark and bark all we want, but for as long as our jaws are not strong enough to make our bite fearsome, nothing will come out of all the protestations and confrontational yapping.

Tagalogs have a rather vulgar descriptive for those who proclaim bravery even if they are not ready to fight.  It goes beyond “tapang-tapangan.”  They call this false bravery “tigas t…”.

Focus on improving the economy first; focus on alleviating the poverty of our people; focus on gathering internal strength. Build a strong nation first.

Topics: Donald Trump , Emmanuel Macron , Bruno Le Maire , Ping Lacson , Alan Cayetano , James Mattis
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