China Daily

Smokescreen of trade can’t hide true troublemaking intent of visit

Although US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stressed that what she led to the Philippines was a “presidential trade and investment mission on behalf of President Joe Biden”, the impression her trip has left is that she was promising mercenary money if Manila continues to do Washington’s dirty work in the South China Sea.

With details few and far between on how it will be spent, the fact that the $1 billion the United States proposes to provide will be given through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity is a telling sign of its true intent. Washington has made no bones about the IPEF being a geopolitical tool targeting China.

Although Raimondo repeatedly stressed the $1 billion investment “delivers on President Biden’s commitment during Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr’s May 2023 visit to Washington to work together to advance US-Philippines economic ties”, it is clear what the US expects the Philippines to deliver for the money — a major contribution to its “Indo-Pacific” strategy.

That the deal between the two is unlikely to go as smoothly as they anticipate is foreshadowed by the Philippine side raising a small request during Raimondo’s visit that Raimondo chose to prevaricate on. Her hosts asked for the Biden administration to give a green light to several shipments of garments made by a Philippine clothing company that it has held up since November last year on suspicion that the cotton was produced by what it alleges is “forced labor” in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

But Raimondo would only say that she “has committed to assist” the Philippines on that issue, Philippine Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo told the media after raising the question in his meeting with the US commerce chief.

Even though Manila is well aware the “forced labor” in Xinjiang is another lie of Washington to smear China — the Philippine garment industry’s broad cooperation with its Chinese partners these years speaks volumes of the mutually beneficial nature of bilateral collaboration — it acts so timorously on the issue, as it is concerned that being tarred with that brush might tarnish the image of its apparel exports to the US, one of Manila’s largest export markets, as told by an anonymous Philippine official.

Raimondo’s delegation comprised US businesspeople as was to be expected for a visit by a commerce official whose purpose was reported in detail. But an incongruous presence was that of Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral John Aquilino, whose appearance in the trade and investment mission was akin to a square peg in a round hole.

Yet it has been surmised that Raimondo’s trade delegation only acted as a front for Aquilino, whose remit was to take advantage of the visit to try to weave the Philippines further into the US’ anti-China net in the region. Last month, President Biden nominated Samuel Paparo, currently the commander of the US Pacific Fleet and a tougher China hawk, to replace Aquilino as commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, a position he has only held since April 2021. It is believed that Aquilino was using his presumably last visit to the Philippines in that role to pave the way for his successor.

Aquilino met with General Romeo Brawner Jr, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in Quezon on Tuesday, for what an AFP spokesman said were discussions on continued cooperation between the two militaries and exchanges on the programs and activities that have been lined up so far.

Since the cooperation between the two militaries so far has been primarily on provocations targeting China, it can be anticipated that more are on the cards.

Editorial, China Daily

Categories China Daily Opinion