Kitchen diplomacy Reuters

Kitchen diplomacy Featured

IT appears that the underpinnings of an incipient Dutertenomics is coming into shape with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) doing a first with an open consultation with the public on the Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022). The five planks opened for public review were creatively termed as: Malasakit (Enhancing the Social Fabric), Pagbabago (Reducing Inequality in Economic Development Opportunities) and Kaunlaran (Increasing Potential Growth). NEDA likewise asked for comments on two additional sections: macroeconomic and competition policies and infrastructure development and ecological integrity.

Dutertenomics at its core revolves around peace and order, geopolitical rebalancing, improvement of frontline service, simplicity and a lot of common sense in governance. One piece still evolving is the much-needed tax reform. Peace and order focuses on the police and the military and public order issues as well as the war against illegal drugs.

Geopolitical rebalancing is based on hopefully a soon-to-be-defined foreign policy and national security framework, the components of which are ASEAN- and Asian-focused, and the redefinition of our relationship with the United States, China and Russia. Frontline service has clearly been felt in the way government delivers services to the public but it will even take a bigger structural reform, that of the change into federalism and a parliamentary system. With federalism you bring government closer to the people. With a parliament, one forces the need to have real political parties in the country. These are parties that win because of ideology and programs and not by machinations of foreign and local operators paid by tremendous sums of money that makes winning a transactional deal than a democratic one.

Simplicity and common sense are values that this administration seems to embrace to its core. Protocols have been minimized. Pomp and pageantry scaled down and common sense injected in every problem-solving exercise and decision-making process. The leader deals in broad strokes, leaving the details to the Cabinet to thresh out. There are good and bad points in doing so but it seems the system now in place may not be the best in terms of responding to issues. That does not mean the system does not work. In fact, it seems to be moving well, adjusting as the Cabinet meets a hurdle and recalibrating when needed.

The simplicity was awe-inspiring during the state visit of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. As the first foreign leader to visit Duterte (as well as Davao), it signaled to all that Japan is the chosen one as the vital partner in international relations and diplomacy of PRRD. The formalities were toned down and it was a revelation to see stiff and protocol-centric Japanese politicians do away with what they have been used to in dealing with Filipino leaders. PRRD showed Abe who he is. He opened his home and had his favorites for breakfast and Abe gamely tasted the biko, suman, kutsinta and mongo soup. It was show and not tell to Duterte and Abe was rockstar in a carefully drilled itinerary executed masterfully by Ambassador Marciano Paynor, Jr., chief protocol officer.

For Japanese businessmen, it has been said that sealing deals are off the boardrooms, and the meeting at the kitchen table of the simple home of PRRD showed to all the mastery of PRRD and his team. It showed to the West what Asian values are and what can be discussed and agreed upon outside of the formalities of office. Leaders can be just their ordinary selves and yet still be able to agree on so much. The “kitchen diplomacy” resulted in Japan matching China’s pledge to PRRD (in business, rice cakes and mongo soup for a trillion yen package will now be the norm). Who will first deliver on their pledges will define Duterte’s foreign play in the region.

Interestingly, Abenomics, the economic policies advocated by PM Abe, is based on “three arrows of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.” The ideological basis of Abenomics is also related to the rise of China as an economic and political power. There are explicit parallels between Abenomics and the Meiji- era program of fukuoku kyohei (enrich the country, strengthen the army). In addition to providing a “stronger counterweight to China in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening the Japanese economy is also intended to make Japan less reliant on the United States for defense.”

We should also give it to PM Abe for being game and positively responding to every event laid out for his visit. As our top trading partner and per PRRD, “truly a brother,” Japan is the anchor that PRRD has chosen to throw to the Asian continent in the rebalancing that is taking shape in our foreign policy. But even Japan is countering the sudden influence of China with PRRD with Abe’s pledge of a “¥1 trillion aid package to the Philippines, including government aid and private investments, over the next five years to help its infrastructure development and strengthen strategic ties with the key Asia-Pacific nation.”

As the United States’ influence with PRRD is shaky, Japan is now the countervailing force to China in the region. Duterte’s sound byte is clear and precise: “We will continue to forge ahead with our efforts to advance the rule of law in order to secure the waters in our region.” Dutertenomics further stressed that “as maritime nations, the Philippines and Japan have a shared interest in keeping our waters safe and secure from threats of any kind.”

Duterte seems to have integrated the Golden Rule in foreign policy: “Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want them to do to us.” In seven months, Duterte’s voice, emanating from a small nation strategically located in the Pacific, is no longer in the wilderness. The “little brown brother” has roared and is now primus inter pares. And yes, Juana, the kitchen does wonders!000
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