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US envoy to PH faces tough challenge

/ 04:24 AM November 05, 2016
John Kerry, Sung Kim

Secretary of State John Kerry applauds after swearing in Sung Kim, left, as U.S. Ambassador to Philippines, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, at the State Department in Washington. AP Photo

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) welcomed Friday the appointment of new US ambassador to Manila Sung Kim, who assumes the post amid troubled relations between the two defense allies.

“We welcome the assignment of Ambassador Sung Kim as the new US ambassador to the Philippines and look forward to working with him in promoting PH-US relations,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Charles Jose said.

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Kim was sworn in Friday morning (Philippine time) by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who once again expressed his government’s “ironclad commitment” to the Philippines. He said that the US “continues to place high value on the close ties that exist between our countries.”

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US Embassy spokesperson Molly Koscina said that it remained uncertain when Kim  would formally assume his new post. He was formerly the top diplomat for North Korea policy.

“Ambassador Kim’s arrival date has not been announced,” she told the Inquirer.

Kim’s predecessor Philip Goldberg has had a rough relationship with President Duterte who subjected him to various tirades for allegedly meddling in Philippine politics.

With Mr. Duterte displaying antagonism to Washington over its human rights criticisms, Kim is faced with a tough challenge to smoothen frayed relations.

President Duterte has also forged closer ties with China—a blow to the Obama administration’s effort to forge deeper ties with Asia. He has declared his desire to scale back military engagements with the United States and has told President Barack Obama to “go to hell.”

Kerry said that democratic elections bring change and “we must have the wisdom” to adjust, but added that the logic of a close US-Philippine alliance remains “compelling.”

Kerry, who administered the oath of office to Kim,  remained confident about the future of the 70-year alliance between the United States and its former colony, “notwithstanding a difference here or there about one thing or another.”

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On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the United States continued to regard the Philippines as an ally, but stressed it isn’t America’s only friend in the region, where Washington has been pushing against China’s assertive behavior in the disputed South China Sea.

“Our strategy, however, is strong and isn’t dependent upon any single one of our friends or allies out there. And we have many. And there’s a huge demand for us to do more.  And the reason for that, quite honestly, just to be direct about it, is that many of them have concerns about Chinese behavior,” Carter said during a question and answer session with soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Daniel Russel, top US diplomat for East Asia, told reporters in Washington on Thursday that Chinese coast guard, navy and maritime militia vessels continue to be stationed near Scarborough Shoal—a disputed reef off the northern Philippines that China effectively seized in 2012.But he said that some Philippine fishing boats have now been able to fish in the vicinity of the shoal.

China granted that access after Duterte met with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders last month. The Philippine defense secretary said on Sunday it is the first time in years Chinese coast guard ships have not harassed and stopped Filipinos from fishing there.

Russel said he hoped it was a step in the direction of respect for the July 12 decision of an international tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea.   —WITH A REPORT FROM AP

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TAGS: Ash Carter, Department of Foreign Affairs, Duterte foreign policy, John Kerry, Molly Koscina, Philip Goldberg, Rodrigo Duterte, Sung Kim, US embassy, US-Philippine relations
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