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Ambassador Kurt Tong on What Hong Kong Can Expect from the Biden Presidency

Changing Hong Kong’s trade status is not likely to be a priority for President-elect Joe Biden, said Ambassador Kurt Tong, the former U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, in a Zoom interview with the FCC on Tuesday night. Though he was cautious not to speculate on any specific policies the new administration might implement in Asia, he said Biden and his advisors understand the importance of dealing with China, a task that might intentionally be made more challenging by the outgoing Trump administration over the next two months.

“The diplomatic dance between China and Biden is going to be an interesting one, and one worth watching,” said Tong, who has left public service and now works for strategic advisory firm The Asia Group in Washington. However, due to limitation in political bandwidth and a need to focus on challenging domestic issues including the coronavirus pandemic and economic stimulus, he projected that foreign policy would not be at the top of the new administration’s agenda.

Ambassador Kurt Tong Ambassador Kurt Tong

Asked what the Biden administration could to do reset U.S.-China relations, Tong said, “I question that ‘reset’ is the right word. I think the idea that the U.S. and China are in a relationship that is characterized by competition is widely accepted, so it’s not how do we get back to friendly, but rather how do we make this competition healthy?” He also predicted that the world could expect to see a see a more calm and consistent approach to international negotiations from the new administration.

“Trump’s negotiating style is to be unpredictable,” said Tong. “That is great when you’re signing leases in New York City. That is harder to make work when you’re dealing with other cultures and countries that don’t trust you. Being unpredictable tends to lead the other party to not continue the conversation.”

Commenting on the unpredictable transition period between presidents that lies ahead, Tong expressed concerns. “The focus over the past six months has been on rhetorical one-upmanship and high-profile but not terribly effective measures,” he noted, citing TikTok and WeChat as examples. “I worry that the Trump administration will try to do more of these things in the next couple of months in ways that may box in the Biden administration.”

“There are plenty of people already thinking about the 2024 election,” he remarked.

Reflecting on his time in Hong Kong, the former U.S. envoy wondered whether the 2019 protests may have gone too far and inadvertently led to the passage of the National Security Law. “The first time that tear gas started flying around made me very uncomfortable, because that can always lead to escalation, which it did,” said Tong.

“The two large peaceful marches in June – if it had stopped there and given the Hong Kong government a little bit of time to digest that and realize they needed to walk back from the extradition bill, there could have been a different outcome,” he added.

Tong also expressed doubts about some of the protesters’ tactics: “Invading the Legislative Council, it’s hard to see how that could appeal to the ‘better angels’ in the Hong Kong government and Beijing.” Still, he was cautious not to describe the protests and National Security Law as a simple case of cause and effect. “It’s hard to second-guess history,” he said.

Tong also criticized the framing of Hong Kong being caught between the West and China. Instead, he argued, the city is actually caught between two Chinese impulses: the desire to have a London-style economy inside China, and the desire to control.

“It’s those competing urges that determine the future of the city,” said Tong. “What foreign government policy does is not irrelevant, but it’s not the determining factor. The fate of Hong Kong is decided in Beijing and Hong Kong’s interaction with Beijing.”

Asked how the international community should interact with Hong Kong, Tong said the “U.S. and other countries should keep Hong Kong high on their list of priorities in dealing with China but not actively discourage business activity, because that’s the city’s lifeblood. If you make it harder for business to be done, that can have a lasting effect and you can’t always turn the dial back.”

Tong also argued that the international community should keep an open door to Hong Kong residents, but commented that “what foreign countries say about welcoming Hongkongers is less important than what Hongkongers actually decided to do. If a lot of people leave, that would be bad for China. If Hongkongers decided to move to the U.S., that would be great for the U.S.”

Will the former U.S. consul general have any role to play in policymaking? Asked whether he would accept an appointment in the Biden administration and what position he would be interested in, Tong demurred: “Yeah, I’m not going to negotiate that over the Internet.”

Watch the full interview:

New Cold War between U.S. and China is a ‘disaster for the world’ – Noam Chomsky

Deteriorating relations between the United States and China have potentially disastrous consequences for the world when global cooperation is needed to fight threats such as COVID-19 and global warming, renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky said Friday in an FCC webinar.

Noam Chomsky talks to Club President Jodi Schneider on August 7, 2020. Noam Chomsky talks to Club President Jodi Schneider on August 7, 2020.

The attempts by the United States to prevent China from developing were cruel and pointless, he said.

“If China develops, we all benefit,” Chomsky said. “If we’re going back to a Cold War between China and the United States, that’s a disaster for the world. This is a moment, more than ever, where we have to have international cooperation. The crises that we face are all international.”

Relations between China and the United States have deteriorated since U.S. President Donald Trump – whom he called “the most dangerous political leader in history” – took office, resulting in a trade war and retaliatory actions against journalists in both countries.

Chomsky, one of the most influential public intellectuals in the world, said China was “trying to reassert its traditional role as the dominant force in Asia”, and the United States “won’t tolerate it”. He then likened the situation to the Mafia.

“The fact is the world is being run very similar to the Mafia.. the Don doesn’t tolerate any interference from states that challenge it, or even states that get out of line,” Chomsky said.

Discussing a range of topics, the author of more than 100 books including Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, addressed the political unrest that gripped Hong Kong in 2019 and said the only way to ease the pressure on Hong Kong to “undermine its democratic procedures, practices and opportunities” was a “reduction of international tensions” between China and the United States.

“It’s always worth remembering the old saying that when the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. Hong Kong is the grass. If the elephants start fighting, Hong Kong is lost.”

“The Hong Kong protests were a major sign of optimism. They didn’t totally succeed but laid the seeds for future progress,” Chomsky added.

The webinar opened with Chomsky’s thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump Administration’s handling of it.

“The United States is basically a wreck,” he said, citing Trump’s dismantling of former President Barack Obama’s preparations against a global health emergency which he said left America “unprepared when the pandemic struck”.

Chomsky went on to warn of future coronavirus pandemics that, intensified by the impact of global warming and habitat destruction, would be even more lethal.

“It could be something like the Black Death,” he said.

Arizona, the state where Chomsky resides and where he is laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, was “now vying for the international record for the highest number of cases per capita”, he said. He accused Trump of “flailing around desperately to find some scapegoat to cover up for the fact that he’s responsible for killing over a hundred thousand Americans”.

Referring to misinformation around the pandemic, he took aim at media organisations such as Fox News for “peddling” misleading messages playing down the seriousness of COVID-19. But Chomsky also lamented the Trump Administration’s rhetoric towards the media as enemies of the people.

“With the media now it’s very scary. When half of Republicans think the government should have the right to close down media it doesn’t like, then that’s dangerous,” he said.

You can watch the entire talk here.

President Donald Trump’s attacks on media ‘first step in silencing dissent’, says journalist

President Donald Trump’s war on the media is spurring violent supporters into action against his enemies, warns an American journalist.

Amy Wilentz on Trump: 'He's really a media whore at heart.' Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Amy Wilentz on Trump: ‘He’s really a media whore at heart.’ Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

On the day a report found that journalism is more dangerous than at any point in the last decade, journalist and professor of English, Amy Wilentz, said Trump’s jokes about killing journalists, and his penchant for labeling the media Enemies Of The People, were already casting a shadow over the industry. She fears that, should Trump lose the presidential election in 2020, violence would break out that could result in deaths.

“If he wins it’ll be fine – fine in the sense there will be no mass shootings or takeovers of polling places or murders of journalists covering the vote. But we all fear what could happen if he loses and begins whining and claiming fraud and suggesting all the kind of things he likes to suggest. Then there could be a wave of real violence, even an armed takeover of the executive branch of government. I’m not kidding, I’m not being a crazy person here,” she told the December 5 club lunch.

The professor in the literary journalism program at the University of California likened Trump to a dictator, adding that his Enemy Of The People label was “the first step in silencing dissent”.

She described Trump as “really a media whore at heart”, who thrived on attention and would tip off newspapers about himself before he became president. But journalists didn’t always take the bait, much to his annoyance, she said. “That’s why Twitter is like a godsend for this man. He doesn’t have to convince a gatekeeper to interview him, he just goes on and the public responds. It’s like an aphrodisiac to this kind of character. it provides him with the immediate ear of the public.”

But some areas of the media are playing a dangerous game in taking an editorial line and allowing a “certain tone” in their reporting of Trump.

“What this does, I fear, is to play into Trump’s narrative,” Wilentz added.

She said Trump was possibly the only person in the United States that believes Prince Mohammed (bin Salman) wasn’t involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, adding: “He calls the media the Enemy Of The People. That’s the most disastrous thing. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t care much that a journalist was killed and dismembered. Or maybe in private he applauds MBS’ assassination of Khashoggi.”

Watch the full talk here.

The U.S. Midterms: Panel of experts discusses implications for Trump and the Democrats

The Democratic Party will need to put forward a candidate who is extremely charismatic, a little outrageous but who can reach America’s white working class community if it is to get President Donald Trump out of the White House, according to a panel of political experts.

L-R: Frank Lavin, CEO and founder of Export Now; Nancy Hernreich Bowen, Senior Advisor at Teneo; and Stephen Olson, Research Fellow at the Hinrich Foundation. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC L-R: Frank Lavin, CEO and founder of Export Now; Nancy Hernreich Bowen, Senior Advisor at Teneo; and Stephen Olson, Research Fellow at the Hinrich Foundation. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Since the Democrats won around 40 House seats in November’s midterm elections–gaining control of the House but not the Senate–the beleaguered party has found itself in a position to use its new power to investigate Trump for his alleged involvement with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. The new powers give the Democrats the ability to subpoena and call witnesses if they choose to do so.

It’s unclear whether this will happen, and if it does, Trump would have to be found to have been involved in a crime to be impeached, said Frank Lavin, CEO, and founder of Export Now, during a panel discussion on the implications of the midterms.

Joining Lavin were Nancy Hernreich Bowen, Senior Advisor at Teneo; and Stephen Olson, Research Fellow at the Hinrich Foundation. All panelists have previous U.S. government experience.

Watch the full panel discussion.

Trump’s foreign policy achievements ‘largely negative’, says political expert

President Donald Trump’s “radical degree of ignorance” in foreign affairs has left his administration with a “far less coherent” foreign policy, according to a political expert.

Daniel W. Drezner gave a frank view on Donald Trump's foreign policy achievements. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Daniel W. Drezner gave a frank view on Donald Trump’s foreign policy achievements. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Pulling out of multilateral agreements, diplomacy via Twitter, and mistaken assumptions about how negotiation works indicate that Trump’s accomplishments in foreign policy are “mostly negative”, said Daniel W. Drezner, Professor of International Politics, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a contributing editor at the Washington Post.

“He’s been at best mixed in terms of what he’s been able to do. Donald Trump has been far better at destroying things than creating things,” he told the September 14 club breakfast.

“Trump has pulled out of the Transpacific Partnership, he’s pulled out of the Paris Climate Change accords, he’s pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, he’s pulled out of, I believe, UNESCO and a few other U.N. agreements,” Drezner said. “I think Trump was legitimately surprised that the TTP deal went forward without the United States, I think he thought it was going to collapse after that.”

He added that there were very few people currently serving in Trump’s administration that actually knew about Asia.

Drezner conceded that, in some areas, Trump had enjoyed success, citing the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; and his “relatively warm relationship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

But, Drezner said, Trump had failed to deliver on significant promises made during his 2016 presidential campaign, namely pulling out of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and NATO.

Referring to the president as the Toddler-in-Chief, Drezner pointed to Trump’s approach as part of his failure to achieve a better foreign policy track record.

“Trump came in with a fair number of mistaken assumptions about how negotiation works in world politics and he’s only now just beginning to realise this fact. I think he really believed that the U.S. had serious coercive bargaining leverage vis-à-vis our allies without realising that if you are as blunt as Trump is on these issues you are almost generating antibodies that guarantee that allies are not going to make concessions,” he said.

Trump was a “zero-sum thinker when it comes to issues like trade”, he said, and operated based on the acronym WWOND – what would Obama not do.

Drezner said Trump was so unpopular globally among its allies – largely democracies – that leaders are reluctant to make concessions when it came to trade “because if they do so it’ll badly undercut their standing domestically”.

He pointed out that Trump’s unpopularity was making liberal internationalism great again, and that Americans were moving in the opposite direction to what Trump wants.

Drezner predicted that many countries would be tempted to wait out the Trump presidency until the next elected U.S. leader, who would likely reverse much of Trump’s achievements.

“Even if you’re a rival like China and you’re looking at what the United States is doing, your best strategy right now is to do absolutely nothing. Why should you take active or hostile measures against the United States when the United States appears to be engaging in self-immolation? You just want to stand back and let the U.S. continue to self-destruct,” Drezner concluded.

Watch the video.

Trump and Kim summit was yet more symbolism over substance, says inter-Korean affairs expert

The declaration signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump has much symbolism but no substance and brings the DPRK no closer to denuclearisation, says inter-Korean affairs expert Dr Robert Kelly.

Dr Robert Kelly gave fascinating insights into North Korea and Kim Jong-un's historic summit with US President Donald Trump. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Dr Robert Kelly gave fascinating insights into North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s historic summit with US President Donald Trump. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The historic summit in Singapore on June 12 produced a “nothing burger” despite the “Trumpian exaggerated rhetoric” that followed, declaring “the nuclear threat is over”, according to Kelly, associate professor in political science at Pusan National University.

In fact, America has effectively exited the process of peace in the Korean peninsula and “dumped it in (South Korean) President Moon’s lap”, he said.

In a lively talk at the FCC on June 21, Kelly shared his frank and often amusing analysis on the much-hyped meeting between the two leaders. He described the declaration, in which Kim committed to complete denuclearisation and Trump pledged security guarantees for the country, as “all talk”.

A closer look at the contents of the declaration shows that the pledges are nothing new, said Kelly.

“It’s all talk and actually when you look at it in print, there’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” he said, adding that the declaration was similar to those made by North Korea in 1993, 2000, 2005 and 2007.

He pointed out there were no actionable items, no detailed information such as how many missiles North Korea has and where they are, and no timetable. This was “low hanging fruit” and America “got nothing back from the North Koreans”, Kelly said.

“Are the North Koreans going to give up something that is genuinely positively costly to them?” he asked, citing closing gulags and showing missiles being dismantled as examples of real concessions from the DPRK.

Kelly added that his concern was that Trump, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by his biggest Republican supporters in the House of Representatives, was driven not by the prospect of peace and prosperity for North Korea, but by his desire to set himself apart from his predecessors. Trump also needs the deal for political purposes, he said, as the elections approach.

The club lunch kicked off by showing the Hollywood-style trailer President Trump played to Kim Jong-un at the Singapore summit (watch it below).

Kelly said he thought the video was “Trump the real estate developer” rather than Trump the president, and that it was probably produced because the president did no preparation prior to the meeting and “needed something to fill in the time”.

Answering a question about North Korea and reports that it had once been the world’s biggest currency counterfeiter, Kelly described the country as “an Orwellian gangster fiefdom” that has been referred to by some as the Soprano State, and the Walter White of Asia – a reference to the meth-producing character in the TV series Breaking Bad.

Trump’s tax law: new rules discriminate against expats, says expert

How will President Donald Trump’s new tax law affect Americans living overseas? It’s a question that remains a mystery, says tax expert Larry Lipsher, because the recently passed legislation is largely indecipherable.

Host Nan-Hie In (left) introduces Larry Lipsher ahead of his talk on Trump's tax reform at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Host Nan-Hie In (left) introduces Larry Lipsher ahead of his talk on Trump’s tax reform at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The first act of its kind since 1986, the new Inland Revenue Service (IRS) act introduces “a whole array of new phrases you’ve never heard of before”, Lipsher said as he sought to focus on the law changes that apply to those living outside the United States. What was clear was that Americans filing tax as 10% or more owners of a foreign corporation would lose out under the new legislation, which introduces a quasi-territorial system that allows tax deductions only for domestic corporation owners of foreign corporations.

Confused? Lipsher said the legislation was so cloaked in complicated new terminology that “I defy you to look at it and tell me what the hell it means”.

Lipsher, an American and Hong Kong CPA, has been preparing U.S. tax returns since 1967, said that since its introduction in December 2017, U.S. banks in Hong Kong were reluctant to even open new accounts with customers because “in order to handle this the banks have to have people who understand the IRS terminology”.

“The system has broken down,” Lipsher said, adding: “You, as Americans living overseas, are discriminated against.”

When asked during the March 14 club lunch whether anyone in the senate was defending expats, Lipsher’s answer was simply “no”.

“The problem is democracy in America is under siege. I’m very pessimistic about the future of the taxation system,” he added.

How North Korea’s burgeoning middle class is painting a new picture of life in the DPRK

The traditional picture painted by the media of North Koreans as an impoverished people is outdated thanks to a burgeoning middle class – but the dark days of starvation may not be far away if sanctions continue to be imposed on the world’s most isolated nation.

Author Nick Bonner showed graphics from his new book, Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Author Nick Bonner showed graphics from his new book, Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

That was the opinion of Nick Bonner, author, filmmaker and founder of a North Korean tour group who shared his insights into the DPRK having spent the last 25 years traveling to and from it.

Bonner’s new book, Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life, uses an extensive collection of graphics and North Korean propaganda artwork to tell the story of how the country has evolved over the last two decades.

Through slides showing various graphics and products, like cigarette packets, he explained how colour illustrated eras the country was going through: vibrant primary colours in the 1970s to promote the country’s virtues, against the greys and browns of the 90s during North Korea’s economic crisis which resulted in widespread famine.

The landscape architect first visited North Korea in 1993, which then inspired him to start Koryo Tours – a Beijing-based travel agency specialising in travel to North Korea. Bonner has produced three award-winning documentaries about the country, as well as North Korea’s first ‘girl power’ movie — ‘Comrade Kim goes Flying’ — which became the first-ever North Korean film to be shown to a public audience in South Korea.

But today’s North Korea – particularly its capital, Pyongyang, paints a different picture. Using his own photographs – one showing a child on a shiny red bicycle carrying a dried fish – Bonner showed the wealth element in the country’s everyday life. Some of this influence came from China, he said.

“Shops in the Metro are full of Chinese (made) rubbish – things that glow, things that are shiny,” he said, adding that market reform in 2002 meant that the import of foreign products brought about greater prosperity. “With products coming in from abroad…it’s given North Korea a kick to make their own products and repackage them.”

However, sanctions imposed as a result of leader Kim Jong-un’s ongoing spat with United States President Donald Trump could see a return to the North Korea of old, Bonner warned, adding that it would be more productive to engage the country rather than isolate it further.

Britain should offer right of abode to BNO passport holders, says Lord Ashdown as he sets up Hong Kong Watch

Britain should offer Hong Kong’s BNO passport holders right of abode in the UK if in the future conditions deteriorate in the SAR as it reintegrates with China, says former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Lord Ashdown spoke about China's rise and its effect on world peace. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Lord Ashdown spoke about China’s rise and its effect on world peace. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The former Royal Marine, in Hong Kong on a fact-finding exercise, said he would “favour very strongly the BNO being extended to the right of abode if it is the case that the conditions in Hong Kong are created by whatever force that enables those who hold the BNO passport to feel so vulnerable that they can’t live here any longer”.

However, the SAR passport “is probably a better travel document than the BNO”, he added.

The BNO (British Nationals Overseas) passport was created in 1987 and is issued to permanent residents of Hong Kong. Holders can visit the UK for up to six months.

Lord Ashdown revealed that he was in Hong Kong to set up a parliamentary system called Hong Kong Watch. He said: “It’s not just directed at one side of the joint agreement, it’s there to act as a prod for the British Government too. The British Government is now obsessed with Brexit (and) trying to build trade deals – it’s a huge plum for the British to have a trade deal with China.

“We must ensure that Britain fulfils its legal and duty of honour to Hong Kong and we’ll be doing that. It will look at the actions of both sides and it will act as a whistleblower.”

Lord Ashdown criticised Britain’s handling of Hong Kong’s handover to China, saying there was a degree of hypocrisy beneath its calls for democracy.

“British rule in Hong Kong was economically successful. But politically it was shameful,” he said, adding that a promise that the city “would never have to walk alone” is not a promise that “can be broken because it proves inconvenient to a British government obsessed with finding trade deals because it wishes to be outside Europe”.

“What happens next here in Hong Kong will be judged by a watching world,” he said.

Opening his speech at the sold-out November 28 club lunch, Lord Ashdown discussed China’s rise as a super-power and its effect on world peace. He said Hong Kong would be the testing ground for President Xi Jinping’s vision of “socialism with a Chinese face”.

“We live in one of those periods of history where the structures of power in the world shift,” he said. “How new powers rise and old powers fall is one of the prime determinants of peace in times like this. The Pacific basin is to be the cockpit in which this drama is about to be played out.”

Lord Ashdown said on many levels China appeared to be moving in the right direction: intent on building its reputation as a good world citizen, seeking to consolidate its trading strength and fill the “vacuum of leadership in regional and global multilateral institutions left by President Trump’s retreat from this space”.

“I do not think China’s true long term interest lies in responding to Donald Trump’s invitation to a dog fight, albeit one which appears to have been postponed after Mr Trump’s effusive glad handling with Chairman Xi,” he added.

However, he said China’s curbs on freedom of speech could not be sustainable: “It is just not in human nature, whether Chinese or otherwise, to be content for long with glorious freedom in one aspect of your life and permanent voicelessness in the other.”

During the question and answer session at the end of the talk Lord Ashdown said he felt the United States was a greater threat to world peace than China, citing the unpredictability of President Trump.

When asked about Brexit, Lord Ashdown predicted that it would not happen: “My view is that on balance, narrowly, I now think Brexit will not happen – not because it could not be done but because the government is too incapable to deliver it. The House of Commons will not vote for a hard Brexit, they will not vote for a throw-ourselves-over-the-cliff Brexit. They could vote for a soft Brexit but the government is too incompetent and too divided to be able to deliver any kind of soft Brexit that I think will make sense.”

He predicted an election next year that would see a new government, and that the process would “collapse in on itself”.

Duterte’s Violent Populism: Why Filipinos support the man who “out-Trumps Trump”

Filipinos support controversial President Rodrigo Duterte despite many fearing that his bloody war on drugs could target them, said an expert on politics in the Philippines.

Mark R. Thompson shared insights into the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Mark R. Thompson shared insights into the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The tough talking president and former lawyer has drawn criticism from human rights advocates for his open encouragement of the extrajudicial killings of drug users in the country. Prof Thompson said it the number of deaths so far is unclear but that it is certain to be more than the 3,000 killings that took place during the last year of Ferdinand Marcos’ presidency. Human Rights Watch puts the number at more than 12,000. Duterte offers cash rewards to police who carry out the executions which human rights groups like Amnesty International have pointed to as an economy of murder.

Duterte swept to power in 2016 because he was straight talking, and his pledges to clean up the country’s drug problem resonated with so-called ABC voters – the elites, upper and middle classes. His election came after a succession of tumultuous presidencies in predecessors Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986), Corazon Aquino (1986-1992), Fidel Ramos (1992-1998), Joseph Estrada (1998-2001), Gloria Arroyo (2001-2010) and Benigno Aquino III (2010-2016).

Mark R. Thompson, professor and head of the Department of Asian and International Studies (AIS), told the November 7 club lunch that Duterte’s approval rating was currently at around 80% – much higher than his American counterpart Donald Trump’s 35%. Unsurprisingly, this was not the only comparison between the two men. “Duterte out-Trumps Trump in terms of his language,” he said. “He’s willing to say things as they are and this gives Filipinos a sense of authenticity.”

For many Filipinos, this state violence has created a sense of political order amidst weak institutions, he added.

Duterte famously called former U.S. President Barack Obama the “son of a whore”.

When he took office in 2016, Duterte openly broke with liberal reformers to declare his violent crackdown on drugs. Estimates at the time put the number of drug users in the country at 1.8 million of the 100 million population. Duterte later revised this figure to 3 million.

Prof Thompson, author of The Anti-Marcos Struggle, said most of the drugs are likely to come from China, and that in a recent case the Chinese authorities tipped off the Philippines to a smuggling ring that it was claimed was linked to Duterte’s son, Paolo.

Relations between China and the Philippines have in the past been strained amid court actions over the sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea. However, Duterte was quick to publicly realign himself with China as he cooled his relationship with the United States.

Despite moves to intimidate his opponents at home and abroad – the Commission on Human Rights has become a target, with Duterte threatening to abolish the Philippines’ National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) – Prof Thompson believes that the country is not yet an authoritarian state. “The press is largely uncensored,” said Prof Thompson, co-author of The Vote in the Philippines: Electing a Strongman. “Courts are not yet officially gagged but they are intimidated.”

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