United States vice president Joe Biden has been vocal about a lot of things, and he hasn’t been exactly shy about his aspirations to become president. However, his latest verbal blunder is something that could have far-reaching consequences that could go beyond his presidential aspirations.
Replying to a question after delivering a speech at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government last Thursday, Biden fingered Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as the three countries responsible for the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), saying these countries “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against (Syrian president) Assad – except that the people being supplied were… extremist elements of jihadist coming from other parts of the world.”
UAE, one of the five allies that joined US in the airstrikes against ISIS strongholds, was outraged – so now Washington is in full damage control mode to soothe the ruffled feathers of its ally. The remarks also angered Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who did not mince words when he said, “If Biden said such a thing, he is history to me.”
Biden has already issued an apology, but analysts say there could be international backlash especially since the US has been trying to court Turkey into joining the fight against ISIS.
Biden has actually developed a reputation for being afflicted with foot-in-mouth disease, with a tendency to make off-the-cuff remarks that can be rather embarrassing – like the time when he met a British official who asked Biden how they should refer to each other. According to accounts, Biden said: “Since it’s just the two of us here, why don’t you call me ‘Mr. President’ and I’ll call you ‘Mr. Prime Minister’,” or words to that effect.
The US vice president may think he is being funny (wink, wink), but this is definitely not the time for making undiplomatic jokes considering the seriousness of the situation with ISIS.
P-Noy: One more time with feeling?
The latest Pulse Asia survey clearly indicates that majority of Filipinos no longer want President Aquino to seek a second term. P-Noy had repeatedly said he would heed the sentiment of his bosses, yet those around him are insisting that there is a clamor for P-Noy to seek a second term. According to our Palace insiders, these are the people who, one, are not ready to relinquish their position (and the perks that go with it) and two, are not sure about the chances of DILG Secretary Mar Roxas in the 2016 presidential elections despite the slight climb in Mar’s numbers in the recent survey on presidentiables.
In the Pulse Asia poll, 62 percent of Filipinos said they do not favor a second term for P-Noy – a significant number considering that the survey was conducted at a time when the Senate inquiry over the alleged overpricing of the Makati building had already started, and the fact that the impeachment complaints filed against the President were junked by Congress, plus crimes involving policemen were prominently covered by media.
According to an observer, people are obviously getting polarized as can be seen by the “signature” campaigns launched by opposing groups. A pro-P-Noy movement going by the name More2Come or Movement for Reform, Continuity and Momentum (which came out with a full page ad) is targeting two million signatures by the end of November to convince President Aquino that the people want him to go for another term.
On the other hand, multi-sectoral groups composed of civil society, the church, and unaffiliated Filipinos who want to hold the President accountable for the pork barrel and DAP scandals are also conducting a signature campaign. The National Transformation Council headed by Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Vidal has also lent its voice in calling for the resignation of the President.
Obviously, politics is getting hotter and we can expect things to simmer before the year ends. So the big question now is – whose voice really reflects the wishes of P-Noy’s bosses?
Tempest in Hongkong
We had an opportunity to engage in a one-on-one with a former US intelligence analyst who was embedded in China, and he provided a very good analysis about what’s happening in Hongkong. According to him, one of the biggest challenges faced by the Chinese leadership is the growing discontent both at the mainland and in the Special Administrative Region of Hongkong, and this discontent is driven by the widening income gap.
The leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping is being challenged by corruption scandals involving top Chinese politburo officials, not to mention issues like pollution, Internet censorship and the growing number of poor people especially in the northern part. According to a survey commissioned by a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, the biggest social issue among people is the perception that authorities are not concerned about the people (58 percent) and that corrupt officials have gone unpunished (51 percent).
Meantime in Hongkong, protesters are angry at what they call a creeping move to curtail democracy. However, a deeper issue would be the high level of income disparity in the former British territory. Perception is strong that this disparity became even more pronounced when China took control of Hongkong in 1997 – with locals resenting the incursion of rich mainland Chinese in the SAR.
Protesters are also resentful that the promises made by Beijing at the time of the turnover (or reunification as some call it) that Hongkong will have a high degree of autonomy has been unfulfilled, aggravated by Beijing’s reported meddling over the choice of Hongkong citizens for their next leader in 2017. What is happening in Hongkong is clearly just the tip of the iceberg, with fears that we could see a repeat of Tiananmen Square if the protests continue. If that happens, the stature of Hongkong as a financial hub would be significantly eroded, to say the least.
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