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HF Says Obama Should Accept Aquino Invite

 

President Aquino sits besides President Obama. Flanking them are the Presidents of Brazil and South Africa.

NEW YORK – President Benigno S. Aquino III said that during the conclusion of the formal launch of of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York Sept. 20, he extended an invitation to US President Barack Obama to visit the Philippines.

He said Obama did not respond to his invitation but congratulated him for his success in instilling government reforms to end corruption and going after the corrupt themselves.

Aquino joined leaders of 45 other countries in launching the OGP, an Obama initiative, that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

In Washington, the conservative Heritage Foundation reacted by saying it’s probably time for the US President to accept the invitation.

Robert Warshaw, Research Assistant in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, on Sept. 22 cited several “compelling reasons” why such a trip is necessary.

He said that in all his speeches in New York, Aquino repeatedly mentioned its treaty alliance with the US. At the Asia Society speech Sept. 20, extolled the U.S. and praised its treaty alliance with the Philippines. He also expressed support for a stronger U.S. role in Southeast Asia, stating that “the Philippines welcomes America’s active re-engagement across Asia by strengthening its traditional alliances, actively making its presence felt in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), [and] participating in the agenda-setting of the East Asia Summit.”

In that speech, Aquino also stressed the importance of the U.S. defense umbrella to the region. “The United States is our only defense treaty ally. Our top priority is maritime security…[and] this is a focal point of our security cooperation with the United States of America.”

Warshaw said Obama should accept Aquino’s invitation for several reasons:

Respect. As America’s longest standing treaty ally in the Pacific, the Philippines deserves the respect that a U.S. presidential visit conveys. Apparently President Obama’s schedule did not permit him time for a formal one-on-one with Aquino in New York or D.C., so accepting Aquino’s invitation would demonstrate a tremendous display of friendship.

Both countries’ interests. A visit serves both American and Philippine geostrategic interests. As Aquino himself stated, “from a geostrategic standpoint, the Philippines is at the vortex of the most dynamic and fastest growing region in the world.” The U.S. has consistently affirmed its national interest in protecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and ensuring stability throughout Asia, and a visit to the Philippines would demonstrate America’s commitment in this area.

The Heritage Foundation has written extensively on how the U.S. can better support the Philippines in protecting its territorial sovereignty against Chinese assertion over the South China Sea-through measures such as increasing maritime cooperation, expanding sales of excess defense articles, and ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. President Obama’s visit could serve as the catalyst for an even greater level of cooperation on this and many other issues, most notably combating terrorism and drug trafficking.

Trade. With President Obama’s stated goal of doubling U.S. exports, the Philippines could prove a critical market in the future. President Obama stated in 2010 that “American exports to ASEAN countries are growing twice as fast as they are to other regions, so Southeast Asia will be important to reaching my goal of doubling American exports.” If that’s the case, Obama should use a trip to the Philippines to discuss means of boosting bilateral trade and investment and, among other things, getting behind the SAVE Act.

Securing America’s position. Aquino is sending a clear and powerful message that the Philippines wants the U.S. to play a greater role in Southeast Asia. Such support from within ASEAN is exactly what the U.S. needs to ensure that America’s strategic, moral, and economic interests in Southeast Asia-interests it shares with the Philippines and several other ASEAN countries-are secured. In visiting the Philippines, Obama can capitalize on the exceptional goodwill of the Filipino people and better demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region as a whole, further proving to an oftentimes fickle Southeast Asian audience that, as Secretary Hillary Clinton and Secretaries of State before her have said, America is in the Asia Pacific to stay.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Philippines alliance, and for the alliance to survive another 60 years, the U.S. must not falter in its commitment to the Philippines. Seemingly simple things like a presidential visit will go a long way in reminding all of Asia that the U.S. is a Pacific nation and will always be a Pacific nation. For these reasons, President Obama should respond with a resounding yes.

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