Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo got a grand reception at the US White House yesterday, a meeting with US President George W. Bush and a state dinner. It's payback for her loyal support of the fight against international terror, but she wants to take home more than memories.
Arroyo is asking the US for economic aid, trade concessions and money to combat terrorists.
For Bush, the state visit offers an opportunity to join another ally in a "victory lap" over the US-led military success in Iraq, said Catharin Dalpino, an expert on US-Asian relations at the Brookings Institution.
"With the bombings in Riyadh and Morocco, we're going to see some charges that the Bush administration was not paying proper attention to the war on terrorism when it was focused on Iraq," Dalpino said. "This is a way for the Bush administration to signal that yes, they are."
Arroyo was among the first world leaders to call Bush and express condolences after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Arroyo and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore were the only two Southeast Asian leaders to support the US-led war in Iraq, and she expelled three Iraqi diplomats after Bush asked US allies to do so. The Philippines is sending a 175-member humanitarian mission to postwar Iraq.
Singapore's Goh visited Washington last week and signed an agreement that would wipe out tariffs and other trade barriers on about US$33 billion in annual trade and give US banks and companies more access to one of Asia's main financial centers. Now it's Arroyo's turn.
She's been seeking duty-free privileges for Philippine products, such as dried mangoes, pineapple juice and tuna.
Arroyo also wants to see Philippine businesses get reconstruction contracts in Iraq and is trying to lure US companies to invest in operations in the country.