Honolulu – Contrary to all sorts of stories and innuendos that he is being replaced because of his comment about then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte’s rape joke regarding an Australian missionary, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg is staying on and far from leaving soon. In fact, he is going to attend the inauguration of incoming president Duterte on June 30, representing US President Barack Obama, and will continue to interact with the current and incoming government officials.
Recently, the Ambassador met with incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto “Jun” Yasay to brief him on the continuing relationship between the United States and the Philippines. Apparently, rumors that Goldberg would be leaving soon is being propagated by intrigues and left-leaning groups following an announcement from the White House about the nomination of several individuals to key administration posts, including diplomatic assignments to Greece, Iraq, Ukraine, Burundi, Laos and the Philippines with Sung Y. Kim as the nominee for Ambassador to the Philippines. It is at this time of the year when new assignments are announced by the White House and also considering the fact that Goldberg has almost completed his three-year term.
Kim, who is a career member of the Foreign Service and is currently a special representative for North Korea policy and deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State (with the rank of ambassador), previously served as US ambassador to Korea from 2011 to 2014. He was also special envoy for the six party talks with the rank of ambassador from 2008 to 2011, and served as director of the Office of Korean Affairs in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs from 2006 to 2008. From 2002 to 2006, Kim was political-military chief at the US Embassy in Seoul and has also held various positions at posts in Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 1988, Sung Kim served as deputy district attorney in the Los Angeles County District attorney’s Office. He obtained his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Loyola Law School, and a Master of Laws from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Kim, a Korea expert who will be the first Asian-American to serve as ambassador to the Philippines, will first have to undergo a process of nomination before he can serve his new post, and this will likely take a couple of months or even longer before his appointment is formalized which is usually the case for new assignments.
Ambassador Goldberg is finishing his tour of duty in the Philippines which began in 2013, and the information we received from Washington is that he is being given an assignment in a major country where he is needed most at this time. The earliest he can leave would be in August. Ambassador Goldberg was the assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research, highly regarded by the US intelligence community for his expertise in counterterrorism and narco trafficking.
We are in Honolulu to get a briefing from the United States Pacific Command (US PACOM), the oldest and largest of the unified combatant commands of the US military and which is responsible for the Indo-Asia Pacific region. US PACOM commander Admiral Harry Harris, who believes that “supporting the rules-based order” is essential in keeping the peace in the region, has also been very candid as far as the situation in the South China Sea is concerned.
A major concern for Harris (who was born in Japan and whose mother is Japanese, while his father was a chief petty officer in the US Navy) is China’s eventual reaction to a decision by the UN tribunal at The Hague regarding the suit filed by the Philippines against China over the latter’s incursion into disputed maritime territories in the Spratlys, and for violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to which China is a signatory.
According to experts, the UN tribunal is likely to rule in favor of the Philippines, which could undermine China’s legal claims as far as the South China Sea is concerned. For sure, other claimant nations are closely watching this case, among them Vietnam which has also sent a statement to the UN tribunal asking the latter to take into consideration Vietnam’s rights in the dispute as well. China for its part has consistently refused to recognize the suit filed by the Philippines, even coming out with a statement just a few days ago that some 40 nations are supporting its position with regard to the South China Sea dispute.
As commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris will be the one tasked to recommend “options” – both short term and long term – based on China’s eventual reaction to the UN ruling, taking into consideration that the South China Sea serves as a major route wherein an estimated $5 trillion dollars of maritime trade passes through every year.
Duterte ‘cordon sanitaire’
This early, it seems the messages and phone calls of close friends and supporters of incoming president Rodrigo Duterte are being allegedly blocked by Mayor Duterte’s aide Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go. Among those who have been reportedly shut out is Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, a longtime friend of the mayor and a major supporter and contributor to his presidential campaign.
Duterte seems to be the kind of leader who wants to know everything that’s going on so that he can make informed decisions, but how can the president-in-waiting know what’s happening if he hasn’t even started his term and yet, is being isolated by the “cordon sanitaire?”