WASHINGTON, D.C.: Brushing aside “recent differences,” US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the alliance between Manila and Washington remained “ironclad” as he swore in Korean-American diplomat Sung Kim as the new US ambassador to the Philippines.
Without directly addressing the anti-American rhetoric of President Rodrigo Duterte, Kerry on Thursday said: “I am confident about the future of our bilateral relations, notwithstanding a difference here or there about one thing or another.”
Kim faces the tough challenge of mending frayed ties after Duterte ordered a stop to yearly joint exercises between the Philippine and US military forces as well as joint naval patrols in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
The President had a rift with outgoing US envoy Philip Goldberg after the latter hit Duterte’s widely criticized gang-rape rape joke during the election campaign.
Duterte also took issue with Washington’s criticism of his bloody anti-drug war, hurling expletives at Goldberg and US President Barack Obama.
Kerry however said: “We continue to recognize our ironclad commitment to the sovereignty, independence and security of the Philippines.”
Kim said he was “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 US and the Philippines are and will continue to be close friends, partners and allies,” he added.
The US Embassy noted that the US is one of the largest foreign investors in the Philippines, and is the country’s third largest trading partner. The stock of US foreign direct investment stands at $4.7 billion.
Trade totaled more than $18 billion last year. The US is the largest market for Philippine agricultural and fisheries products exports, with sales topping $1.4 billion in 2014.
The US Senate confirmed Kim’s appointment on September 28 amid Duterte’s tirades.
Charles Jose, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said Manila looked forward to working with Kim in promoting Philippine-US relations.
Present at Kim’s oath-taking were deputy secretary of State Tony Blinken, former US ambassadors to the Philippines Kristie Kenney and Harry Thomas, assistant secretary of State Daniel Russel, and Philippine Chargé d’Affaires to the United States Patrick Chuasoto.
Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said Kim faces the
question of “whether the Americans will agree to the change that the President (Duterte) wants.”
But the appointment of a new US envoy, Casiple said, would give the two sides a fresh start.
Kerry said the Philippines and the US should “continue to consult openly and honestly” on important issues, and expressed a desire to visit Manila anew before his terms ends on January 20, 2017.
Kim had been special representative for North Korea policy and deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs. He was the US ambassador to South Korea from 2011 to 2014.
He worked as a public prosecutor at the Los Angeles district attorney’s office before joining the State department.