Duterte: Manipulating his Alliances

By Marina Mangie

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly shown that he is not afraid of ruffling feathers when it comes to relationships with other nations. Duterte has threatened multiple times to break ties with the United States, leading China to come forward with concessions and deals, hoping to woo the island nation away from its allegiance with the United States.

He has since rescinded his threats, stating that the Philippines will be separating its foreign policy from the United States, but not severing ties, according to CNN. However, the longtime alliance with the U.S. military has some in Duterte’s camp questioning the decision. “Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics and soldier-to-soldier camaraderie just like that?” asked former president Fidel Ramos, who recently resigned from his position as Duterte’s envoy to China, according to The Washington Post.

The loss of Ramos is one of the first significant consequences that Duterte has faced as a result of his offensive behavior towards both the United States and the international community.

The Washington Post reported that the U.S. government is also beginning to take a more formal stand against the human rights violations associated with Duterte’s war on narcotics by refusing a sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine police.

The Philippine National Police basketball team and crew of the USS Connecticut submarine play a friendly basketball game in Olongapo City.

The Philippine National Police basketball team and crew of the USS Connecticut submarine play a friendly basketball game in Olongapo City.

Based on recent negotiations with the United States and China, however, Duterte has shown that he knows how to manipulate the situation in his favor. The New York Times reported that Duterte’s current strategy hails back to the Cold War, where the tactic of threatening to switch allegiances from the United States  to Russia, or from Russia to the United States was how many leaders of small countries got concessions from the superpowers.

In Duterte’s case, this means he negotiated with China to allow Filipino fishermen into a disputed area of the South China Sea, near a Chinese-controlled shoal that may contain a military base in the future. China also offered him $9 billion in low-interest loans for infrastructure and other projects in the Philippines, says The New York Times.

But he is still keeping the alliance with the U.S. government intact, so the Philippines continues to benefit from U.S. military protection. His threats to break ties allowed him to make headway with negotiations with China, but as soon as he got what he wanted, he backed down to maintain the relationship with the United States.

Duterte has done well for himself, as he maintains his image as the champion of the Philippines, focusing on increasing benefits domestically, but he has also lessened the pressure from the U.S. government regarding the extrajudicial killings and other abuses in his war on drugs, reports NPR.

What remains to be seen is how Duterte handles his balancing act back home. He still has high approval ratings, according to The Washington Post, but as Ramos’ defection demonstrates, he risks alienating his own cabinet. Ruffling the feathers of other nations can work to his advantage on the international stage, but he must tread carefully in the domestic political climate.

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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South Africa to Leave International Criminal Court

By Alma Burke

Since reforming its government of apartheid and its election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994, South Africa has become an international symbol of hope and justice throughout Africa. The government’s recent decision to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) has sent shockwaves throughout the continent and begs the question, do politics outweigh justice?

South Africa decided last month to withdraw from the ICC, after refusing to implement an arrest warrant on Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir issued by the court. The Sudanese president flew to South Africa for a leadership summit, and the South African government claims it granted immunity to all heads of state who attended.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

President al-Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the ICC and the South African High Courts of war crimes and genocide in Darfur, Sudan. According to NPR, when asked about South Africa’s lack of compliance in his arrest, a government official said the government did not want to carry out the ICC’s arrest warrant because it could cause “regime change.”

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, signed the document indicating the country’s withdrawal. South Africa is not the only country to leave the ICC. Burundi and Gambia also filed withdrawal receipts to the ICC days before South Africa, reports The New York Times. All three countries argue that the court disproportionately focuses on war crimes in Africa more than any other continent. Historically, the African Union has discouraged member states from cooperating with the ICC in response to these accusations.

The ICC was created in 1998 under the Rome Statute, which is controlled by the United Nations. It was officially implemented in 2002. The court has 124 ratified member states, including 34 in Africa, and is the first international legal body with permanent jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes, states Aljazeera. This means the court has the power to arrest, indict and convict crimes that are committed internationally, with member state assistance. Nine of the last 10 ICC investigations involved African leaders and war criminals, including President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President al-Bashir.

The creation of the ICC was partially in response to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which caused the death of an estimated one million people in 100 days. But South Africa’s decision to leave the court is more significant than the decision by Gambia and Burundi. Former President Nelson Mandela was a champion of the high court and was one of its founders. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu has said the country’s decision to leave is a betrayal of the justice fought for by Nelson Mandela.

South Africa’s advocacy and influence within the ICC has been a key factor in its effectiveness as an international criminal court. However, since al-Bashir’s indictment, the South African government’s support has waned and the discussions to leave began last year, reported The Guardian. Scholars in international relations believe that South Africa’s decision will be a precursor to a mass exodus of African nations, which will be detrimental to the ICC and its mission. The human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, has been especially critical of the country for its decision to leave, stating: “South Africa’s proposed withdrawal from the International Criminal Court shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes.”

The International Criminal Court and its function represent the importance of international relations and influence. South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC has the potential to affect the entire body of the high court because of the support and influence it provides to the international court. It also speaks to a skewed political system that protects leaders accused of terrible crimes, while doing nothing for the victims of those crimes.

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Egyptian Leadership Welcomes Trump Election

By Rana Shenawi

Egyptians received news of Donald Trump’s victory on Nov. 9 with mixed reactions, ranging from celebration to disappointment to outrage.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his supporters welcomed the news of Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States while Egypt’s liberal activists expressed their shock and concern on social media platforms.

Sisi was the first world leader to congratulate Trump on his victory in the U.S. presidential elections, saying: “Egypt hopes Trump’s presidency will breathe a new spirit into U.S.-Egyptian relations.”

Sisi met the two presidential candidates in New York during the United Nations General Assembly in September. He said he had no doubt that “Trump would make a strong leader” after the meeting. While Hillary Clinton raised the issue of human rights in Egypt, Trump told Sisi, “under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on.” Despite Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric during the campaign, many Egyptians welcomed his victory, arguing it could be a positive development for Egypt.

We, in Egypt, love Trump not Hillary because she is an enemy of the Middle East and we were scared of her presence. Trump’s relationship with us is nice and we had hoped for him to win,” 56-year-old accountant Hani Nasr told Reuters. When asked how he felt about Trump’s anti-Muslim comments, Nasr said: “These are just words that are spoken during an election campaign. He will not implement any of it.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Clinton, who served as the U.S. Secretary of State during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, is unpopular among many Egyptians, who saw her as a long-standing supporter of the overthrown dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Sisi supporters consider Clinton too sympathetic with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned after Islamic President Mohamed Morsi was removed by a military coup in 2013.

“Trump’s victory is in Egypt’s interest as it spells the end of the U.S. administration’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Emad Gad, a member of the Egyptian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, in Al-Monitor’s Egypt Pulse.

In contrast, Egypt’s liberals and political activists shared on social media their disappointment at the outcome of the U.S. election  Khaled Dawoud, former spokesman of the liberal Dostour Party, explained that under Trump’s administration, the United States will care less about human rights in Egypt.

“This is the democracy our leaders in the Arab world want to deprive us of! Rulers don’t stay longer than their term in office, nor do they change laws to extend their presidency. It is the people that decide! Egypt will not rise without democracy,” said Ibrahim Eissa, Egyptian TV host and journalist, in Egypt Pulse.

Trump’s presidential victory could be either a blessing or a curse for world leaders and citizens around the world. Despite his many negative comments during his campaign, Trump still won some people’s hearts and minds whether in the United States or worldwide. Only time will tell if President Trump will damage America’s reputation or improve its relations with other nations.

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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Brazilian Scandal Focus of New Netflix Series

By Melina Fleury

A Brazilian corruption scheme, nicknamed “Operation Car Wash,” that was broken by a Federal Police investigation is now going beyond international news coverage by The New York Times and BBC and is becoming a Netflix series. Netflix confirmed that it is producing a new original show based on the Brazilian police investigation of the corruption at Petrobras – the biggest state-owned Brazilian corporation in the petroleum industry.

The show has a provisional title of  “Jet Wash” and is being produced by Brazilian director and screenwriter Jose Padilha, who was also responsible for directing the successful Netflix series Narcos, about the life of drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Unlike the police investigation against Escobar, which came to an end 22 years before being adapted into fiction, the Brazilian investigation into “Car Wash” is still unfolding and has no end in sight.

petrobras5Padilha and Netflix bought the rights to the book, “Lava Jato – o Juiz Sergio Moro e Os Bastidores da Operação Que Abalou o Brasil” (Car Wash – Judge Sergio Moro and the Backstage of the Operation that shook Brazil), by reporter Vladimir Netto. The book was released in July 2016, and it documents the biggest scandals in the operation so far. The TV show will be told as a crime thriller.  It will include the start of the operation, with the arrest of the country’s biggest contractor, Marcelo Odebrecht; former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva being forcefully taken in for questioning; and the overall public reaction to the biggest investigation against corruption in the country.

Padilha sounds excited to bring the scandal to television, describing it as a “tropical perestroika,” and comparing it to a “real House of Cards.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the producer said the unfolding scandal itself was already a television series.

The Netflix show will detail the corruption scandal, and Padilha promises novelties not yet published by the media. “This project will follow the judicial investigators in their journey to unveil the largest corruption scheme that Brazil has ever witnessed,” he said in a Netflix statement. This will be the second Netflix show produced in Brazil. The first one, a dystopian thriller called 3%, is considered Netflix’s “next big thing” and has a global release date of Nov. 25.

What is Operation Car Wash Exactly?

 The operation started as a money laundering investigation in March 2014, shortly before now-impeached former President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected, and it grew into an on-going two-year investigation to uncover corruption and bribery allegations at Petrobras.  Top executives from some of the country’s biggest construction companies bribed Petrobras’ officials to inflate the prices of the oil company’s contracts.

One of the first accusations was made towards Paulo Roberto Costa, senior executive at Petrobras, after investigators learned Costa had been given a car by convicted black-market money changer Alberto Youssef, according to Reuters. He then admitted to have been taking bribes for nearly 10 years. Dozens of politicians were accused of paying or receiving kickbacks, reported the BBC.

During the last two years, more than 100 people, including senators and executives of Petrobras, have been arrested. The Brazilian Federal Police believes the group might have moved over $3 billion illegally. Around 230 business are still being investigated, according to prosecutors.

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

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A Special Chinese Diplomat: The Giant Panda

By Zhongyi Christina Su

Bao Bao, the giant panda born in the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, will depart for China in the beginning of 2017. Mei Lun and Mei Huan, the twin giant pandas born three years ago at Atlanta’s zoo, arrived at Chengdu, China, on Nov. 3, 2016.

According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, all cubs born at the zoo move to China by the time they turn 4 years old as part of the zoo’s cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA). Bao Bao will turn 4 on Aug. 23, 2017.

“Bao Bao is very special to us at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo,” said Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences, in a statement issued by the National Zoo. “She was the first surviving cub born at the zoo since 2005. She’s captured the hearts of people all over the world who watched her grow up on the panda cams, and she has been an ambassador for conservation. We are sad to see her go, but excited for the contributions she is going to continue to make to the global giant panda population.”

Bao Bao was born at 5:32 p.m. Aug. 23, 2013, at the zoo’s David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. Peng Liyuan and Michelle Obama, the first ladies of China and the United States, posted videos welcoming Bao Bao and praising panda diplomacy.

A giant panda at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

A giant panda at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan noted that the pandas “symbolize the loving care of the Chinese and American people and the friendship between them. May the friendship between the Chinese and American people grow even stronger.”

“After decades of close collaboration with our Chinese partners, these remarkable animals stand as a symbol of the growing connections between our two countries,” First Lady Michelle Obama told the Wall Street Journal.

Cui Tiankai, China’s Ambassador to the United States, wrote in an article published in the Washington Post, that: “Many people don’t realize it, but there are actually two Chinese ambassadors in Washington: me and the panda cub at the National Zoo.”

Four zoos across the United States are homes for giant pandas today. The arrival of these diplomats successfully conquered the hearts of many Americans. In the United States, a zoo with a panda will have a strong popularity. Over the years, pandas not only brought happiness to countless Americans, but the big bears also provided a bridge for Sino-U.S. cooperation in a complex and changing environment.

Known as “panda diplomacy,” China has been sending its pandas as gifts to other countries as a sign of friendship. Chinese media outlets state that there are 42 pandas living abroad, including in the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Austria, and Belgium. Before the 1980s, the giant pandas were mainly regarded as gifts. Now, they also shoulder the task of cooperation between countries doing scientific research. According to CCTV News, China established long-term research cooperation with 17 zoos in 12 countries.

According to the U.S.- China Policy Foundation, pandas are part of Chinese diplomatic efforts to improve soft power and ties with key countries. The pandas are a part of efforts to advance bilateral relations.

“I think Bei Bei told us one thing: Family is very important,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo, in The Washington Post. Bei Bei, who is now 1-year-old, is another panda living in the National Zoo. “Americans, Chinese realize family is important and friendships are important, and it’s our friendship that will cause us to be successful for future generations.”

The pandas have become China’s best diplomats. No matter where the pandas go to live, they carry the world’s imagination with them about China, and they help to transcend national boundaries.

Photograph by Zhongyi Christina Su

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