Wall Street Journal
Scores of Chinese dredgers ground up the coral of semisubmerged reefs in the South China Sea over the past three years to build artificial islands that are now becoming military bases. The enormity of the destruction to marine biodiversity is unprecedented. The Chinese government has destroyed more than 5 square miles of coral reef in fishing grounds that help feed hundreds of millions of people, including Chinese.
“China is committing a grand theft of the global commons,” says Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio in an e-book published earlier this month. It’s a theft that has inflicted “permanent and irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem,” an arbitral tribunal in The Hague determined last year in litigation brought by the Philippines.
Yet Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Conservation International have all averted their eyes. “None of them have really stepped up to the plate,” says Edgardo Gomez, an award-winning professor emeritus of marine biology at the University of the Philippines.
The best-funded environmental groups don’t have much to say when asked about the issue. A spokesman for Conservation International in Manila declines to comment. “As we’re sure you can appreciate, we cannot undertake conservation efforts everywhere,” says WWF spokesman Christopher Conner in Washington. “WWF is not a political organization,” adds Joel Palma, president of WWF-Philippines.
It’s the same story with Greenpeace. “The reason we don’t work on the South China Sea is because the nations around the area are embroiled in a territorial dispute,” says J.P. Agcaoili, the communications manager for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. Mr. Agcaoili asserts that it would be “counterproductive” to tackle the South China Sea issue.
But the environmental NGOs don’t usually hesitate to confront governments. For example, Greenpeace activists scaled an oil rig in 2012 to protest Russian drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The WWF and Greenpeace even spoke out against Chinese-government subsidies that have resulted in destructive overfishing, especially off the coast of West Africa.
So why didn’t they utter a peep about China’s degradation of the South China Sea?
Knowing when to keep their mouths shut seems to be the price these organizations must pay to enjoy the good will of Beijing. It’s one thing to offer respectful criticism over Chinese fishing subsidies within the bounds that the Communist Party tolerates as a social safety valve. But it’s another matter entirely to condemn the crimes that China is committing in the South China Sea, a position that would infuriate the Politburo.
Greenpeace, Conservation International and the WWF all have offices in China. The WWF’s programs to protect the giant panda drive donations globally, and well-heeled do-gooders pay $10,000 per person for panda safaris in Sichuan. Mr. Gomez of the University of the Philippines laments, “Sad but true, money talks.”
As the WWF notes on its website, it operates in China “at the invitation of the Chinese government.” But invitations can be withdrawn. With dozens of Chinese nationals employed on the mainland by the WWF, Greenpeace and Conservation International, the NGOs’ operations in the Middle Kingdom are hostage to the whims of the Party.
The WWF’s international board of directors includes Wang Shi, founder of China’s biggest residential real-estate developer. An avid sportsman, Mr. Wang is no stranger to danger, having climbed Mt. Everest. Yet he declined to comment on China’s actions in the South China Sea.
Likewise the WWF-Philippines board, which includes some of that country’s wealthiest executives, has stayed silent. Christopher Po, the CEO of Century Pacific Tuna, is looking to China as a major growth market for his seafood exports. Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, who chairs one of the Philippines’s largest conglomerates, is currently in talks with Chinese enterprises about infrastructure projects.
Hotel developer Elizabeth Sy has even closer ties to the mainland. Ms. Sy is an advisor to the board of SM Prime, which has shopping malls across the Philippines and also in five Chinese cities. She is the daughter of the Philippines’s richest man, Henry Sy Sr. , who was born in Fujian and has large ventures on the mainland.
WWF-Philippines president Joel Palma, on behalf of the board, declined requests for comment on conflicts between members’ businesses and protecting the marine environment. The WWF has revenue of more than $300 million annually.
Environmental organizations appeal for donations by pointing to their record of speaking truth to power. But the flagship groups are betraying their ideals in the pursuit of money and access in China. That’s the real reason we don’t see Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior protesting Beijing’s environmental crimes in the South China Sea.
Mr. Rushford is editor of the Rushford Report, which tracks international economic and security issues.
By Greg Rushford
Next Tuesday, July 18, will be another big day for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which has been one of Washington’s most prestigious think tanks for more than a half century. The Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference, as have its previous incarnations dating to 2011, will once again draw public attention to Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. Speakers with impressive national security credentials will be flown in from Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Asia. They will be joined by leading American authorities from such respected institutions as the U.S. Naval War College and its Center for Naval Warfare Studies. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee’s Asian panel, will kick off the day with a speech on “Renewing American Leadership in the Asia-Pacific.”
So who has been generously paying for conferences aimed at encouraging the importance of renewing American leadership in Asia? CSIS President and CEO John Hamre has been ducking the question for the past six years. Last July, for instance, CSIS informed the public that its sixth annual South China Sea conference had been “made possible by general support to CSIS.”
That’s not only too vague to convey real meaning, but a flat-out “misrepresentation,” according to a source who prefers to remain anonymous. To substantiate that charge, the source has provided me internal “Confidential” CSIS documents that show exactly where the money has been coming from.
The memoranda, e-mails, and other records reveal that Hamre has had a secret angel — in Hanoi.
And the angel has had an important say in who has been invited to the annual CSIS maritime conferences, and who hasn’t. CSIS’s secret benefactor is an arm of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The unit, called the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, reports to Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and the Communist Party, according to it’s official website. Pham Binh Minh, currently Vietnam’s deputy prime minister, is a senior Party member who has served as foreign minister since 2011.
Since 2012, Vietnam’s government has given CSIS more than $450,000 to hold the annual South China Sea conferences. Over the years, CSIS has added another $55,000 from the think tank’s internal accounts, the sources of which are not identified in the documents I have been shown. CSIS chief Hamre declined to respond to persistent requests for his comment.
Questions about transparency
This is not the first time that questions have been raised in the press about CSIS and shadowy contributions from foreign sources. On September 7, 2014, for instance, the New York Times published an article headlined “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” Reporters Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams and Nicholas Confessore tracked millions of dollars from foreign governments that have been flowing into influential Washington think tanks, including CSIS, in recent years. The murky money “has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom,” they noted, citing instances of scholars whose opinions seemed to be unduly influenced by financial considerations.
In response to the inquiries from the Times, CSIS agreed to release a list of more than a dozen foreign government donors including Japan, Sweden and Turkey. But the disclosure from CSIS chief Hamre was semi-transparent at best. CSIS “declined to disclose details of its contracts with those nations or actual donation amounts,” the newspaper reported.
Currently, the CSIS website discloses eleven foreign governmental donors. The United Arab Emirates, for instance, has contributed “$500,000 and up,” for unspecified “regional studies.” Saudi Arabia and Turkey have chipped somewhere between $100,000 – $499,999,” again unspecified. And donations between $5,000 – $99,999 have come from five other governments including Kazakhstan and Germany. No contributions are now listed from the government of Vietnam.
Hanoi’s Hidden Hand
That some Vietnamese money has been given to CSIS, however, is noted elsewhere on the CSIS site — tucked away under gifts received from 48 foundations, non-governmental organizations, and “Nonprofit Donors.” The Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam is listed as having donated at least $5,000 to CSIS, but not more than $99,999. What the DAV is, or what the money was intended for, other than the usual unspecified “regional studies,” is not disclosed.
There is nothing anywhere on the CSIS site to indicate that the DAV is an official arm of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nothing to suggest that the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam advises the foreign minister “in the formulation, planning and implementation of the foreign policy of the State,” as it notes on its own website. To glean that DAV also participates in “academic exchanges” with research institutions, inside Vietnam and overseas, one has to go to the DAV website, where CSIS is not mentioned.
The official connections between CSIS officials and the Vietnamese government, according to the documentation I have been shown, date to April 25, 2012. That’s the day the first memorandum of understanding between CSIS and a Vietnamese diplomat was inked. Ernest Bower signed on behalf of CSIS as the think tank’s senior adviser and director of its Southeast Asia Program. Since 2011, Bower has also been the president and CEO of the BowerGroupAsia, an international consulting firm that has offices in Vietnam and other Asian countries.
Tung Nguyen Vu, who in 2012 was the deputy chief of mission of the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, signed on behalf of DAV. Hanoi contributed $129,236 to hold the second CSIS conference that July. CSIS added another $20,000.
Diplomat Tung — who is also referred to as Nguyen Vu Tung — is now a senior official with DAV; he appeared on a panel at the 2016 CSIS South China Sea conference, held last July 12. And at next Tuesday’s seventh CSIS event, Dang Cam Tu, the deputy director of the DAV’s Institute for Strategic Studies, will appear on a panel moderated by CSIS senior adviser Murray Hiebert.
Hiebert is also a senior adviser to the BowerGroupAsia. His work as a private business consultant does not appear on his CSIS bio, nor does he does not disclose his corporate affiliations in his public CSIS appearances. Hiebert has declined to explain his dual roles, and CSIS chief Hamre and the think tank’s board of directors have also remained silent.
In 2015 Hiebert admitted that a CSIS study on U.S.-Vietnam relations he had co-authored had been paid for by the Vietnamese government — a fact that the published study had not disclosed. Hiebert has drawn previous attention for his unwillingness to offer critical analysis of Vietnam’s tarnished human-rights record. He once even summoned a security guard escort a prominent Vietnamese-American pro-democracy advocate from the CSIS premises, after being pressured to do so by Vietnamese security officials. (For further details, see How Hanoi Buys Influence in Washington, D.C., and Obama’s Vietnam ‘Legacy’ Trip: A Reality Check, on www.rushfordreport.com.)
These days Vietnam’s chief paymaster to CSIS is Tran Truong Thuy. Thuy is a veteran DAV official who has been involved with the annual CSIS maritime conferences since the first one in 2011. On July 11, 2016, Thuy signed the confidential CSIS memo of understanding which set the budget for last year’s conference. He was then wearing another hat: director of the Foundation for East Sea Studies.
FESS describes itself on its website as a non-profit that DAV and senior Vietnamese diplomats launched in 2014. FESS and the DAV share the same address in Hanoi. FESS’s mission is basically to explain to domestic and international audiences the Vietnamese government’s positions on its maritime disputes with China. The short explanation of the bureaucratic arrangements: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — and ultimately the Communist Party — calls the shots for both DAV and FESS.
Last year’s CSIS conference budget was typical of its predecessors. The Vietnamese agreed to pay $94,935 of the total costs of $104,935. CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative chipped in the other $10,000. The money was to be used to pay for CSIS staffers’ time spent on the event, travel and hotel costs from various Asian locations for invited speakers, and other conference costs such as those associated with meals and printing documents. CSIS agreed, as it had in previous years, to send all of the receipts to Hanoi.
While the contractual arrangements with Hanoi specified that both CSIS and the Vietnamese would “together draft the agenda and the list of participants,” CSIS also asserted its rights to full editorial independence and its “total discretion and final decision-making authority.”
Those rights were put to the test in the days before last year’s conference, which was held on July 12, 2016. That same day, an international tribunal in The Hague issued a ruling that determined that China has been acting in violation of its international legal obligations by destroying coral reefs to build weaponized artificial islands in waters with the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone — putting both Manila and Hanoi in range of Chinese jet bombers.
The Paymasters’ Power Play
Given the likelihood of intense public interest in the wake of the tribunal’s ruling, CSIS staffers Murray Hiebert and Greg Poling asked China’s ambassador in Washington, Cui Tiankai, to speak at the conference. Considering the beating that Beijing would be taking that day in light of the legal ruling, Hiebert and Poling thought that was only fair, and said so in their e-mail correspondence.
Poling informed Thuy on July 7 that he had heard from the Chinese embassy, and that Cui was willing to speak.
Thuy hit the roof.
“Murray, we cannot agree with the way you handle the conference,” the Vietnamese diplomat informed Hiebert in one July 8, 2016 e-mail. “You invited Chinese Amb without consultation with us and now saying that you cannot disinvite him. Please understand that to create a forum for promoting Chinese propaganda is not our purpose.”
Hiebert shot back: “Our goal is not to create a form for Chinese propaganda, but to create a credible forum that shows China’s unacceptable behavior in the SCS [South China Sea]. Amb Cui won’t convince anyone that justice is on his side. Allowing him to speak will give our all day event and the event’s sharp criticism of China much more credibility without detracting from our message.”
Finally, after the flurry of e-mails with the CSIS staffers had reached an impasse, Thuy put his foot down. “Murray, not allowing Chinese Amb to deliver his speech is not only my personal opinion but a strict requirement from our ‘sponsors’ and I don’t have chance to convince them anymore.”
Faced with the implacable attitude of the men with the money in Hanoi, Hiebert and Poling crafted a compromise position. “Thuy, Amb. Cui will not speak at the SCS conference tomorrow,” Hiebert informed his Vietnamese benefactor on July 11. “Instead, he will speak later in the day after the conference has ended at the invitation of the China Power Program, which is not related to the SE Asia program that organized the conference.”
As Hiebert had promised Thuy, the July 12 conference that the Vietnamese government had paid for adjourned at 4:30 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, at 4:45 p.m., the Chinese ambassador delivered his remarks, which were live-streamed.
Enter Irony — and Moral- and Intellectual Failures
There is an irony to this story. CSIS has earned genuine respect in leading foreign-affairs circles for its success in focusing the American public’s attention on China’s misconduct in the South China Sea. The rub is the evasiveness concerning who was paying the bills. That has been compounded by the business affiliations of CSIS officials who were raising money from the Vietnamese government at the same time they were promoting private business dealings in Vietnam.
Readers will draw their own conclusions as to what the Vietnamese government has gotten for its money. During the years covered in this article, Vietnam’s agenda in Washington has had several key parts. Hanoi wanted to create a climate of opinion to foster a closer diplomatic and security relationship with the United States. CSIS analysts also wanted that. The Vietnamese wanted President Barack Obama to visit Vietnam, to help deepen the relationship. CSIS also advocated that trip. Hanoi wanted Washington to lift its ban on the sale of lethal arms to the communist regime. CSIS analysts shared that part of the agenda also. And Vietnam wanted American support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. CSIS was on the same page.
To be sure, CSIS officials could plausibly argue that the agenda they have been pressing on behalf of better U.S.-Vietnamese relations was reasonable.
But there’s more to this story that raises troubling questions. Above everything else, the Vietnamese government has wanted foreign policy elites in Washington to avert their eyes on Hanoi’s gross violations of human rights. The Communist Party sees its very survival as dependent upon its continued ability to suppress even peaceable dissent. And as I have reported previously in How Hanoi Buys Influence and Obama’s Vietnam Legacy Trip, John Hamre, Ernie Bower, Murray Hiebert, and Greg Poling have been careful not to cause undo offense to the powers in Hanoi when awkward questions about political prisoners have arisen.
To refuse to speak out when courageous Vietnamese citizens are imprisoned merely for peaceable exercising their universal rights to free speech is surely a moral failure.
And there’s also an intellectual failure. Vietnam, a member of the United Nations, is a signatory to various international legal instruments that guarantee its citizens universal freedoms of speech and expression. Any analyst who criticizes China for flouting international law in the South China Sea surely is obligated to point out that Vietnam’s continuing persecution of some of its best citizens also is in violation of accepted UN international legal norms.
Except, perhaps, if there is money to be made by looking away.
The Philippine president is determined to forge closer ties with China — but at what cost?
BY GREG RUSHFORD
OCTOBER 17, 2016
Since he took office on June 30, Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte — also known as “Duterte Harry” — has earned international notoriety for a harsh anti-drug campaign that has led to the extrajudicial killings of more than 3,600 alleged traffickers around the country. The crackdown has alarmed the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States. At one point Duterte called Barack Obama “a son of a whore,” later telling the U.S. president “to go to hell” after Washington dared to criticize the murders. Sooner or later, Duterte has vowed, he will “break up with America,” the Philippines’ longstanding treaty ally and security guarantor.
There’s one international power that doesn’t seem particularly bothered by Duterte’s excesses. “The Chinese side fully understands and firmly supports the Duterte administration’s policy that [prioritizes] the fight against drug crimes,” said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua in a speech last month. He went on to express his satisfaction at the “friendly interactions’ between the two countries since the new president began his term, predicting that the sun “will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations.”
If anything, the ambassador may have understated the matter. This week Duterte is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, where the two are planning to sign a range of high-level bilateral agreements that will dramatically boost trade and investment between the two countries. Nor is their new friendship restricted to business. The visit comes just days after Duterte declared an end to joint Philippine-American naval patrols in the strategically sensitive waters of the South China Sea, where China has been steadily expanding its presence despite rival claims by Manila and other countries. The 65-year alliance between the U.S. and the Philippines has never looked so fragile.The 65-year alliance between the U.S. and the Philippines has never looked so fragile.
So why the shift in policy? On one level, Duterte’s desire to seek friendship with the Chinese reflects a willingness to appease Beijing’s aggressive stance in the disputed waters. Chinese Coast Guard warships armed with machine guns and water cannons have harassed Philippine fishermen, preventing them from earning their livelihoods in their traditional fishing grounds in the South China Sea (90 percent of which China claims as its own). Chinese dredges have been deployed well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, where they have destroyed irreplaceable coral reefs to build airstrips and naval bases aimed at enhancing Chinese offensive power. China has also forcibly prevented Filipinos from developing valuable oil, gas, and mineral resources that they’ll need in the coming years to power their electricity grid. “I will not go to war” over such matters, Duterte has declared.
On July 12, just short of two weeks into Duterte’s presidential term, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled that China has been acting in violation of Beijing’s sworn obligations under international maritime law. The litigation was brought in 2013 by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino Jr., who sought to use the rule of law to rally international opinion to pressure the Chinese to respect Philippine sovereignty. Now Duterte appears to be signaling that he’s willing to overlook the tribunal’s findings if China is willing to do a deal.
There are various explanations for Duterte’s eagerness to seek a compromise. Some of those who know the president well suggest that the pivot is rooted in the left-of-center ideology he has professed in his past, which left him with a residual suspicion of the West (and Americans in particular). Duterte openly admires one of his former college professors, Jose Maria Sison — the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. Others point out that Duterte, who has several times threatened to declare martial law, has praised authoritarian leaders like former Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos. And besides China’s President Xi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has been wooing the Philippine president with suggestions of cheap financing for Russian attack helicopters.
Meanwhile, Duterte and his foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay, have been courting the support of business elites who favor closer relations with Beijing. In his career as a lawyer, Yasay represented the interests of Chinese-Filipino tycoons who have good connections in Beijing. Yasay, who brought no foreign policy experience to his position, has also been careful to speak respectfully of the Chinese — while telling an audience of Washington, D.C. insiders that Filipinos no longer want to be America’s “little brown brothers.”Filipinos no longer want to be America’s “little brown brothers.”
Among Yasay’s prominent clients has been Lucio Tan, one of the country’s richest men, who Duterte has said was one of the first to urge him to seek the presidency. While little-known outside Asia, billionaire Tan — who was born in China’s Fujian province and is considered on the mainland to be a “patriotic” Chinese — is one of the most controversial figures in Philippine political circles. He was one of the original so-called “Marcos cronies,” who became rich thanks to the tax breaks and other government subsidies granted in the 1970s by Ferdinand Marcos.
After Marcos was deposed in 1986, a series of successive Philippine prosecutors sought unsuccessfully to recover Tan’s allegedly ill-gained wealth. Today, he is chairman of Philippine Airlines, the country’s flagship carrier, and has extensive holdings in banking, mining, tobacco, beer, hotels and property development. He’s also made some major investments in China, which have clearly earned him the goodwill of Beijing. When Chinese presidents come to Manila, they always stay in one of Tan’s hotels.
Though there’s no evidence that Duterte is financially beholden to Tan — the president says he turned down the tycoon’s offer of cash and the use of aircraft during the campaign — they share a strong interest in closer ties with the Chinese. During his campaign, Duterte received an especially warm welcome from the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, of which Tan is an honorary chairman. Along with the Chinese ambassador, Tan was one of the first prominent visitors Duterte received after his election victory.
In his eagerness to establish close economic ties with Beijing, Duterte has also said he is looking to revive various Chinese-Philippine joint ventures that were envisioned a decade ago during the presidency of Gloria Arroyo. The most notable project on Arroyo’s watch involved a $329 million telecommunications contract with China’s state-owned ZTE Corp. But Arroyo’s hopes to forge closer economic ties with China were derailed by various allegations of pay-offs that involved ZTE, Arroyo herself, and members of her entourage. Authorities in Manila recently dropped graft charges against Arroyo and her former colleagues, and her four-year house arrest has been lifted. Duterte has insisted that he had nothing to do with those decisions, though he had publicly offered to pardon Arroyo, in any case.
While no corruption allegations have surfaced in the new Duterte administration, the concerns about the adverse consequences of doing business with China remain. As Philippine professor Aileen Baviera has observed, the ZTE deal “was an example of how Chinese wealth … can undermine already weak institutions and government norms in a recipient country.”
While some members of the Manila elite worry that Duterte’s campaign of extrajudicial killings threatens to corrode the hard-won rule of law, Filipino-Chinese businessmen are among the most vocal defenders of the president’s drug war.Filipino-Chinese businessmen are among the most vocal defenders of the president’s drug war. And a tycoon from mainland China, Huang Rulun, who first acquired his wealth while living in the Philippines, has pleased Duterte by volunteering to pay for a new internment camp for thousands of drug users who have surrendered to police rather than fall victim to the slaughter.
While Duterte is currently riding high in public opinion polls, signs of a backlash are already starting to emerge. A notable indicator came last week when respected elder statesman and ex-President Fidel Ramos — whom Duterte has said would be a special envoy to China — publically expressed deep concerns about where the new Philippine leader is headed. Ramos lamented that “Team Philippines” is losing, “and losing badly.” Also last week, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio even felt it necessary to remind Duterte that to surrender Philippine sovereign rights would be an “impeachable offense.”
Indeed, if Duterte continues on his current course — downplaying the legally binding decision of the Hague tribunal and watering down his own country’s territorial claims — his honeymoon with voters could end quickly. The Philippines remains one of the most pro-American countries in the world; in one recent survey, a whopping 92 percent of the population held positive attitudes towards the U.S. And some of the most pro-American Filipinos are to be found in the military, which looks to the American security relationship to counter Chinese bullying — which might help to explain why Duterte has been busily showering top officers with favors and cash.