New Washington Envoy to Manila Says US and PHL to Continue to be ‘Close Friends, Partners and Allies’

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US SECRETARY OF STATE John Kerry claps as he introduces newly sworn in US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, a Korean-American lawyer and seasoned diplomat. Ambassador Kim will fly shortly to Manila with his wife Jae and daughters Erin and Erica. Former US Ambassadors to Manila Kristie A. Kenney and Harry Thomas, other top US officials and FilAm leaders witnessed the swearing in ceremonies at the State Department.

By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

Editor in Chief and Managing Editor

MANILA/WASHINGTON (PhilAmPress/PhlTodayUSA) – The United States officially has a new ambassador to the Philippines even as the relationship of the two countries are undergoing rough times under outgoing US President Barack Obama and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had visited Manila a number of times including during the aftermath of the super typhoon Yolanda, remained positive about the relationship as he swore in Ambassador Sung Kim at the State Department.

During the swearing in at the State Department attended by former US envoys to Manila Kristie Kenney and Harry Thomas and Philippine Charge D’Affaires Patrick Chuasoto, among others, Kerry reiterated that the US continues to place a high value on the close ties that exist between the two countries. It was the same message Kerry aired last July when met President Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

“We continue to recognize our ironclad commitment to the sovereignty, independence and security of the Philippines,” Kerry said at the swearing-in ceremony for Ambassador Kim.

“And we will continue to cooperate in efforts to maintain peace and stability, and to promote shared prosperity in the Asia Pacific region,” Kerry added.

Kerry at the same time vowed the US will continue to assist the Filipino people in the event of natural emergencies. “I was personally there right after Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), when we delivered enormously important help and assistance. And we will continue to consult openly and honestly on issues of impact to both of our countries,” he said.

“And I very much hope to visit there before leaving my term of office as Secretary of State,” he added.

Ambassador Sung Kim, a lawyer and the first Asian-American envoy assigned by Washington to Manila, vowed in an interview in August, three months before he was sworn in that he will work with President Duterte and his government.

“If confirmed, I will work with Philippine President (Rodrigo) Duterte and his new administration to ensure our security cooperation remains strong and effective. This includes supporting Philippine efforts to peacefully reduce tensions in the South China Sea and help the Philippine Armed Forces better monitor the seas off their shores,” he said as reported by Yonhap, the Korean news agency, and the Korea Times.

Kim also said in the early interview the US commitment to defend the Philippines is “ironclad and unwavering.”

In remarks at his swearing in, Ambassador Kim said he is “thrilled to have the honor of representing our country in the Philippines, our oldest ally in Asia and one of our most special friends anywhere.”

“The U.S. and the Philippines are and will continue to be close friends, partners, and allies,” he stressed.

Ambassador Kim also said he looks forward to a strong economic ties between the US and the Philippines.

“For many years, the United States has been among the Philippines’ top trading partners and its larger foreign investor” he said. ” I very much look forward to continuing our robust economic engagement and to reinforcing the good work USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation have done to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth,” he added.

In his remarks, Mr. Kim recalled that President Obama’s impressions on the Filipinos. “When President Obama visited the Philippines in 2014, he talked about the spirit, the kalooban, that defines the extraordinary warmth, vitality, and strength of our relationship,” he said. “That spirit is embodied in deep people-to-people ties between our two countries.”

He noted that there are four million Filipino Americans in the United States. “Generous and committed to family and tradition, Filipino Americans give back to their communities both here in the United States and in the Philippines. And together with the many Americans residing in and visiting the Philippines, they help build bonds that unite and strengthen both our countries,” he said.

Ambassador Kim said that this year, the 70th anniversary of formal U.S.-Philippines relations will be marked. “We celebrate and reaffirm our common history of shared sacrifice, values, and interests, and of course, an ironclad mutual defense treaty,” he said.

Mr. Kim succeeds Ambassador Philip Goldberg who has held the post for the last three years. He was earlier commended by the Senate and the House of Representatives as he thanked members of Congress for their support and bid them goodbye.

Goldberg headed the US mission in Manila that was the first to assist the super typhoon Yolanda victims but his term was punctuated by controversies over his behaviour during the last presidential election and his criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The US Embassy in Manila in a post on its Facebook account stated that Ambassador Kim was nominated by President Obama last May 18, 2016 and recently was confirmed by the US Senate.

Ambassador Kim is expected in Manila shortly as US readies for a new Philippine Ambassador. Marciano Paynor, currently Malacanang protocol officer, a soldier turned diplomat and classmate of Senators Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan at the Philippine Military Academy.

President Duterte has also named journalist and public relations executive Jose Manuel Babe Romualdez as special envoy to the United States.

Malacañang expressed optimism that Ambassador Sung Kim’s take over of the US mission in Manila signals a desire from the Americans to foster a better cultural understanding between the US and the Philippines.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the Palace welcomes the appointment of Sung Kim as the new US envoy to the Philippines, noting that Mr. Kim is a Korean, of Asian descent.

Abella said Kim’s appointment is expected to foster better ties between the Philippines and United States.“It’s very significant po that they chose an Asian… I’m sure it’s some form of a signal na they want to be on a better cultural footing at pagkakaintindi na between Asian(s). That seems to be right now the most obvious, one of the major significant reasons why they chose a Korean also. So ang gusto po siguro nila mas maintindihan tayo, that we’re able to relate on better cultural terms,” Abella said.

Abella also said the Philippines is “one of the most exciting places right now.”

Meanwhile, Abella affirmed President Duterte’s confidence against coup plots and mass demonstrations allegedly planned against his administration by groups, one of which reportedly is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

“The President truly is confident in his role as President tsaka ‘yung trust na ibinibigay sa kanya ng mga tao at tsaka ‘yung the integrity of what he’s doing, ‘yung kanya pong purpose, ‘yung kanyang direksyon bilang Presidente po,” Abella said.

Ambassador Paynor will replace former ambassador Jose Cuisia as Philippine envoy to Washington.

As chief of mission in Washington, Paynor‘s appointment must be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.

Paynor previously served in diplomatic posts as ambassador or consul general in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Gabon, Budapest, Rome, Israel, Cyprus and Los Angeles.

President Duterte described Paynor as a “seasoned foreign career” official.

He said Paynor would be replaced by Robert Borje, who is Second Secretary of the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations.

Paynor was first assigned to the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. as special assistant to the ambassador in 1982

 

The President likewise said he considered Paynor’s vast experience in foreign service in choosing him to be the country’s ambassador to Washington.Paynor served as protocol chief to former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In 2015, he was director-general for the country’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.

Secretary Yasay informed Romualdez of his appointment at the Imperial Tower Hotel in Tokyo, on the sidelines of Duterte’s three-day official visit.

“We are trying on how we can work with the changes… especially with the upcoming elections in the US so we will see how we can (establish)… let’s call it as rebooting our relationship with the US,” said a member of the President’s official delegation.

“We’d like to communicate the message of how we will have a rebooting of our relationship,” the official, who declined to be named, added. “Yes, of course we will continue our relationship with the US.”

As special envoy, Romualdez’s “special mission” is to put back on track Philippine-US relations.

An earlier report on Interaksyon.com stated that Ambassador Kim faces a huge challenge given the hostile rhetoric of President Duterte toward America.

The report added that his entry into the picture could help cool the temperature and ease anxieties over the feared fallout from those remarks, according to Sen. Richard Gordon, who once served  as mayor of Olongapo City and as Chairman and Administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority which operated the Subic Freeport, the former US Naval Base.

And, if the credentials of the American diplomat of Korean descent were the basis for assessing how he will fare in Duterte country, there’s much to commend Sung Y. Kim in terms of knowledge, crisis management and diplomatic patience and savvy in thriving in difficult climes, according to the report.

Kim was serving as Special Representative for North Korea Policy and concurrent Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea when he was nominated in May this year to be ambassador to Manila.

Kim will be the first diplomat of Asian heritage to serve as American ambassador to Manila, the former colony of US, and former host of its largest bases (Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base) outside the mainland, and partner in a 65-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty.

Sung Kim was once ambassador to South Korea and, in his job as special envoy on North Korean policy, has acquired experience in engaging the legendary colorful leaders at Pyongyang and their grim adventures in threatening the West and their neighbors.

Senator Gordon, who was the first chairman of the post-bases management of the sprawling Subic naval base, lamented how “the communication lines, the trust, appear to have been broken” going into the last few months of outgoing Ambassador Goldberg, who had presided over a robust period in US-Philippine relations – during which Washington provided quick logistical help after super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), and a UN court ruled in Manila’s favor in its case against Beijing in the South China Sea.

Such robust ties took a backseat, it appears, after Goldberg became target of Duterte’s ire when the Davao City mayor was campaigning for the May 9 presidential elections.

Goldberg was quoted among those who reacted after a video went viral showing Duterte in one caucus talking about his standoff with Davao prison inmates who held hostage an Australian missionary. Duterte explained later he meant no disrespect to women or the missionary, but was bashed by critics for his remarks. He later lashed out at Goldberg for commenting on what he considered a “malicious spin” by rival camps, even though the US diplomat’s remarks were also just couched in general terms about the need to respect women.

“So now, we have a new ambassador; let’s hope he won’t get into a diplomatic mess,” Gordon said in a telephone interview with InterAksyon.

Gordon was earlier reported as having advised some US embassy officials to weigh more carefully – and be sensitive to the unspoken words – the comments of Duterte in Beijing, where he signalled a pivot toward China and a veering away from traditional ally America.

Senator Gordon expressed hope that incoming ambassador Sung Y. Kim could signal a “fresh start” as he begins his tour of duty in Manila. Goldberg ends his tour next week.

In an interview in 2013 with The Politic.org, Sung Kim was asked what he deemed the greatest challenges of working in the Foreign Service.

His reply: “While some issues and bilateral relationships may be easier than others, there’s no such thing as drive-through diplomacy. Negotiations, in particular, can be protracted, even painful processes.

“Often there seems to be a correlation between the level of difficulty and the importance of any issue. For instance, the way forward on the North Korean nuclear issue may one of our greatest diplomatic challenges, but it is vital that we continue our efforts given what is at stake.  The importance of ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the Asia-Pacific region cannot be overstated.”

The Politic also asked him: “Over the past few months, the Korean peninsula has been in headlines all around the world. Could you distil some of the discrepancies between international perceptions of conflict in Korea, and what is actually happening on the ground?”

Sung Kim’s reply: “During the period of heightened North Korean rhetoric and provocative behavior this past spring, the world was watching to see what Pyongyang would say or do next and so were we. The United States takes all threats against our homeland and our allies seriously and we were coordinating very closely with our South Korean partners and other key countries in the region as we took appropriate action and closely monitored all developments on the Peninsula. And we of course continue to remain vigilant and maintain very effective combined deterrent capability on the Peninsula.

“However, our experience with North Korea teaches us that what we saw last spring follows a familiar pattern of bellicose rhetoric and threats coming out of Pyongyang. Having lived with the North Korean threat for decades, South Koreans are intimately aware of this pattern and throughout the country people continued to live their lives and conduct business in a normal fashion even during the period of extremely harsh rhetoric out of Pyongyang. In fact, the stock market wasn’t affected at all during the tense spring.

“So I think this combination of strong deterrent capability and familiarity with the security situation meant that perceptions and attitudes on the ground were different from those outside the Peninsula.”

Despite the sanctions’ failure in the short term to change the behavior of Pyongyang’s intractable leaders, Sung Kim was earlier reported saying in a Voice of America interview that these were effective in curbing North Korea’s access to foreign currency, something it needs for its weapons program.

“I think it’s important to remember that pressure and sanctions need time. It requires sustained concerted effort, systematic effort to really have the kind of effect we desire,” Sung Kim was quoted saying.

In August 2016, the Korea Times ran a story on Sung Kim, as nominee-US ambassador to Manila, remarking on the South China Sea tensions: “The nominee to be US ambassador to the Philippines said Wednesday that he will work closely with Manila.”

Asked at his Senate confirmation hearing about the United Nations international tribunal ruling that rejected China’s territorial claims to most of the South China Sea, which was considered a victory for the Philippines and other countries locked in maritime disputes with Beijing, he responded: “If confirmed, I will work with Philippine President (Rodrigo) Duterte and his new administration to ensure our security cooperation remains strong and effective. This includes supporting Philippine efforts to peacefully reduce tensions in the South China Sea and help the Philippine Armed Forces better monitor the seas off their shores.”

Kim also said the US commitment to defend the Philippines is “ironclad and unwavering,” according to the Yonhap dispatch that ran in Korea Times.

Kim’s father, Kim Ki-wan (a.k.a. Kim Jae-kwon) was a member of the Korean CIA and was posted as a diplomat to Japan.

Born in 1960, Sung Y. Kim was 13 years old when his father moved his family to Los Angeles. This, after Kim’s father was kidnapped and held for 20 days by North Korea.

Kim received his US citizenship in 1980, said a backgrounder on him at the US State Department.

He earned his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and received a J.D. from Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles in 1985 and an LL.M. from the London School of Economics.

Before joining the Foreign Service, Kim worked as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.

Kim’s early assignments included postings to Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. He also took a year off from the State Department to help nurse his father, who died in 1993. (Alfred Gabot/Claire Rivera Morales True with Interaksyon.com/PhilAmPress/PhlTodayUSA, alfred_gabot@hotmail.com, cmtpr1962@yahoo.com.ph)

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