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WikiLeaks: Beijing gives then-Pres. Arroyo thumbs up

December 15, 2010 10:58am

(Updated 10:21 p.m.) In the first US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks that extensively discusses the Philippine government, Chinese and American foreign officials both had positive reviews of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, although a Chinese official noted that corruption remained "a significant problem facing the Philippines."

Beijing believes it "cannot do much about that," the US cable quotes Hu Zhengyue, then-Director General for Asian Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as saying.

The series of US-China dialogues, reported by the cable from the US Embassy in Beijing classified as “secret", took place in March 2007, only a few months before Arroyo cancelled the NBN-ZTE contract with a major Chinese company for alleged anomalies.

No US cables have been released discussing Beijing’s attitude towards the Philippines after that scandal broke.

WikiLeaks has been releasing thousands of cables piecemeal on its web site, sending repercussions throughout the world; none so far emanated from the US Embassy in Manila.

An excerpt from the secret US embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks that discusses the Philippines. GMANews.TV

'Arroyo in control'

Security in the Philippines was a greater concern for both Chinese and US officials at the meetings.

Despite the observation about corruption, "Beijing sees President Gloria Arroyo as a good leader because she has shown that 'she is in control,'" according to the US cable.

Citing the Philippines as part of a trend in Southeast Asia away from military rule and towards a more open system, the Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told his US visitors, "While there are persistent rumors about military coups in the Philippines, they rarely happen."

Visiting US State Department official Eric John described to his Chinese counterparts "the extremely successful approach to counterterrorism the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) has taken in Mindanao, with the support of the United States," the cable noted.

John agreed with the Chinese that "President Arroyo has stabilized Philippine leadership and enacted strong fiscal and economic policy, but stressed that Beijing and Washington must encourage Manila to continue working hard to promote transparency and good governance."

No mention of Spratlys

Referring to its economic diplomacy, or as political scientists would say, "soft power," Hu told the Americans that China has invested in Philippine agricultural development and transportation infrastructure, “seeing poverty as the key challenge" facing the country.

The officials did not discuss the dispute over the Spratly Islands, where China and the Philippines have overlapping claims, a source of regional tension in the South China Sea.

The meetings that the US Embassy in Beijing reported to the State Department in Washington DC covered a range of issues in Southeast Asia, and not only the Philippines, which was mentioned in only two out of 20 paragraphs. But it was the first US cable released that was tagged RP, for Republic of the Philippines.

Much of the US-Chinese dialogue was actually about the political troubles in Burma (which China calls Myanmar).

Cui said that "if the United States wants to make a difference on Burma, it should engage directly with General Than Shwe (the Burmese leader)."

The cable noted: "The United States and China concur on the message we need to send Burma's generals; that is, that they should accept UN engagement, release political prisoners, permit NGOs to operate in-country and settle differences peacefully with ethnic minorities. To advance the process, the United States would like to work in parallel with China."

Cui told the Americans that ASEAN was growing "frustrated" with Burma, and had "lost its appetite to pursue new efforts."

'US and China must discourage Cold War mentality'

The officials from the two powers also discussed their "mutual interest" in Southeast Asia. Cui assured the Americans that "Beijing's interest in Southeast Asia is not a threat, but a logical result of geography, including China's 2,500-mile land border with Southeast Asian nations and sharing of the South China Sea."

Cui added that "the United States and China must discourage the Cold War mentality that cooperating with one of us is an inherent rejection of the other."

Cui Tiankai has since become even more influential after his promotion this year as Vice Minister of the Chinese foreign ministry. Hu Zhengyue was also promoted to Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for China.

Shortly after their meeting in 2007, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asian Affairs Eric G. John was appointed US ambassador to Thailand where he is currently winding up his assignment.

Arroyo ‘visited China 10 times’

A senior DFA official who requested anonymity agreed that Arroyo was indeed a "good leader" as stated in the leaked cable, citing various achievements of the previous administrations in improving the country's economy.

"The Philippines-China ties blossomed during the ten-year Arroyo administration. Trade increased a hundredfold, investments shot up, [and] China made an export preferential credit of USD1.8 billion," the official said.

"[Arroyo] also visited China ten times during her term," the official added.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. has yet to issue an official statement on the matter, but the US Embassy in Manila earlier downplayed concerns that the leaked memos may imperil relations between the US and the Philippines.

“Any unauthorized disclosure of classified information by WikiLeaks has harmful implications not only for the lives of identified individuals that are jeopardized, but also for global engagement among and between nations," US Embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson earlier said.

“Given its potential impact, we condemn such unauthorized disclosures and are taking every step to prevent future security breaches," Thompson added. – with Jerrie M. Abella/TJD/JV, GMANews.TV
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