WikiLeaks cable: Beijing saw Arroyo as 'good leader'

by Kris Danielle Suarez,

Posted at Dec 15 2010 01:49 PM | Updated as of Dec 15 2010 10:04 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A leaked cable from the US Department of State revealed China's views on the Philippines and the government of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo back in 2007.

A cable sent from the US Embassy in Beijing, dated March 5, 2007, showed discussions between Eric John, then US Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP), and two senior Chinese diplomats regarding Southeast Asia.

The document was posted on the whistleblower website WikiLeaks on Sunday, December 12.

The cable, labeled "secret" by the Beijing post, focused on the "overlapping interests" in the region, specifically among Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, Thailand, East Timor, and the Philippines.

Under the subhead "Progress in the Philippines, but More Needed," the cable revealed the discussion between John and Hu Zhengyue, then Chinese Minstry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Asian Affairs, focusing on the Chinese efforts in dealing with the southeast Asian nation.

It revealed that China saw poverty as the "key challenge" facing the Philippines, and, as a response, Hu said they have "invested in its agricultural development and transportation infrastructure."

"Beijing recognizes corruption as the second significant problem facing the Philippines, but believes it "cannot do much about that," DG Hu said," the cable stated.

'GMA a good leader'

Meanwhile, China saw then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a "good leader," saying that she has shown "she is in control."

John agreed with the Chinese observation, saying Arroyo has "stabilized Philippine leadership and enacted strong fiscal and economic policy."

Despite this, John and Hu both agreed that their countries must encourage Manila to "continue working hard to promote transparency and good governance."

The cable also showed John outlined the "extremely successful" approach to counter-terrorism the Philippines has taken in Mindanao, "with the support of the United States."

Hu also said that the US and Chinese efforts in the Philippines, while "working from different directions," are "complementary."

Burma focus of cable

The cable's focus was on Myanmar, called Burma in the document, specifically the suggestion that the US should directly engage with General Than Shwe if it "wants to make a difference."

The cable also revealed US's fears that the ASEAN member is "headed at high speed in the wrong direction," saying that the US and China could be at odds with each other if Burma were to adopt a constitution that would exclude other political groups.

ASEAN, the cable revealed, was already growing "frustrated" in dealing with their member.

"After Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid's poor treatment during his 2006 visit to the country, ASEAN lost its appetite to pursue new efforts," according to Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tian-kai.

"While agreeing that taking a long-term view of Burma issues is useful, DAS John emphasized that lack of good governance has been a persistent problem for the country. In this context, he cautioned that the Burmese leadership's adoption of a new constitution that serves to lock out certain parties from political participation would be a step backward and could harm United States-China cooperation," the cable stated.

With this, Cui said that they are confident "positive change" will come to Burma, but "it will take time," and "in line with the overall trend" in the region of moving away from military rule to a more open system, citing Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

"Indonesia's President Yudhoyono is no longer a general, AFM Cui stressed. Thailand's current military leadership will not remain in power over the long haul. While there are persistent rumors about military coups in the Philippines, they rarely happen," the cable said.

Hu, in his "personal view," added that Burma would "likely be open" to a dialogue with the US, with Chinese facilitation.

Southeast Asia

Meanwhile, Cui and John also discussed "capitalizing" on their mutual interests in "promoting stability and prosperity" in the region, to "dispel the perception that the two are competing in a zero-sum game."

"AFM Cui said Beijing's interest in Southeast Asia is not a threat, but a logical result of geography, including China's 2,500 mile land border with Southeast Asian nations and sharing of the South China Sea," the cable stated.

"The United States and China must discourage the Cold War mentality that cooperating with one of us is an inherent rejection of the other, AFM Cui said," it stated.

Hu and John discussed "the importance of Indonesia" and the"instability" in East Timor, and the situation in post-coup Thailand.

In Indonesia, the US and China "must work together to promote democratization, economic growth and counter-terrorism," the cable noted.

Meanwhile, the two countries eyed cooperation in helping promote stability in East Timor.

Finally, the diplomats discussed the situation in Thailand, which has just undergone a coup in September 2006.

Thomas Christensen, another EAP Deputy Assistant Secretary, was also at the meetings, the cable noted.

1,463 cables released so far

A total of 1,796 diplomatic cables from the United States embassy in Manila are part of more than 251,000 documents leaked by the website WikiLeaks, starting last November 28.

The leaked memos are part of a release that Julian Assange, the chief of the whistleblower website, described as a "diplomatic history of the United States" that would cover "every major issue" as governments braced for damaging revelations.

Based on a database made public by The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, out of the total sent by the US embassy in Manila, 1,794 were sent between January 2005 to February 2010. The remaining two leaked cables are dated Novemer 21, 2001 and July 19, 1994.

The Philippines is discussed in 2,036 documents. Iraq, the most discussed country in the database, clocks in at 15,365 cables.

The full texts of the leaked cables sent by the US embassy in Manila have yet to be released. WikiLeaks is planning to release the documents "in stages over the next few months."

As of Wednesday, a total of 1,463 documents had been published on the site, none from Manila.