President Reagan told Philippines Vice President Salvador Laurel yesterday that he fully supports the new Philippines government, and Laurel said he was satisfied with Reagan's assurance.
"I got what I wanted -- confirmation of the fact that as far as he is concerned the legitimate president is Cory Aquino and not Ferdinand Marcos," Laurel said after the meeting. "It swept away the cobwebs, and Mr. Reagan has done a good job of it."
At a news conference Wednesday, Laurel said that "cobwebs of doubt" about Reagan's position remained for some Filpinos because of Reagan's ambivalent remarks in the aftermath of the Philippines election and his long-term friendship with Marcos.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, pointing out that the United States quickly had recognized the new government after it came to power, said Reagan repeatedly had expressed his support for the new government. "And I think Mr. Laurel was glad to have him say that again, which he did."
The Reagan-Laurel meeting came on a day of talks between the president and representatives of the six-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei. Administration officials said Reagan spent the most time with Indonesian President Suharto and tried to prod him to ease economic barriers and reduce government favoritism as a way to increase U.S. and other foreign investment in Indonesia.
Reagan continues today on his 13-day journey, the longest foreign trip of his presidency, by flying to Tokyo, where he will attend the economic summit. Nancy Reagan is to visit Malaysia and Thailand before joining him there.
Despite Reagan's endorsement of the Aquino government, Shultz offered some criticisms of its positions and of Laurel in a briefing for reporters yesterday before the official dinner that concluded the ASEAN meeting.
Shultz called upon the Aquino government not to "discourage" other governments from providing a haven for Marcos if he wants to leave Hawaii. The Aquino government has indicated that it would regard giving asylum to Marcos as an "unfriendly act," Shultz said, "and that has meant that other governments have not wanted to do that." The Aquino government wants Marcos to stay in the United States to facilitate legal proceedings to regain some of his property here.
Asked whether the Reagan administration should provide additional military aid to the Philippines to fight a continuing Communist insurgency, Shultz said that Laurel "gave the impression that his needs were infinite, and we don't have infinite capacity to provide money." The administration last week sent to Capitol Hill a package of $100 million in economic assistance and $50 million in military aid for the Philippines.
Both Shultz and Laurel said that Reagan and other U.S. officials had expressed concern about what the secretary of state called "the genuine military problem" in the Philippines and the difficulties with a cease-fire because "the Philippine government has been ceasing firing but the insurgents haven't."
Laurel said the U.S. position was that "the Communists are tough hombres and should be dealt with in a very skillful manner."
U.S. and Indonesian officials gave conflicting versions of the extent to which Reagan had gone in his indirect criticism of Suharto for alleged favoritism to family members and friends in business dealings. Members of the Australian media were barred from covering the ASEAN conference because of a newspaper article in a Sydney paper alleging corruption in the award of contracts and comparing the Indonesian president to Marcos.
Indonesian spokesman Sudharmono said Reagan did not raise the subject of the "high-cost economy," an Indonesian euphemism for payoffs and trade practices that require dealings with Suharto-favored companies.
But Shultz said that Reagan had pointed out that one of the problems for a potential investor in Indonesia is that he is "required to buy from local monopolies commodities that you can buy more cheaply on the world market." He said that Reagan had presented Suharto with "a little list of things" that would improve the climate for U.S. investment.
Another senior administration official said that Reagan "certainly did raise the high-cost economy issue, although in a polite and unconfrontational manner."
But neither Indonesian nor U.S. officials were present during most of the talks. Reagan and Suharto met for an hour with only their interpreters before being joined for 15 minutes more of conversation with other officials.
Officials of both countries said there was U.S. support for the Indonesian request to have a communications satellite launched on the next space shuttle that would be used by Indonesia. And Sudharmono said Suharto told Reagan that Indonesia is adjusting its laws to protect U.S. intellectual property, such as cassettes and video tapes, in response to persistent U.S. complaints.
But when the Indonesians raised concern about the negative impact of falling oil prices, they were told by Shultz that the United States is "leaving it to the market," Sudharmono said.
There were also differences between Reagan and the ASEAN ministers on the role of China, a supporter of Cambodia in the region. Reagan devoted a strong passage in his speech to the foreign ministers denouncing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
While the U.S. focus was on Vietnam and its Soviet sponsor, nations in the region expressed particular concern about Chinese intentions.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Ahmad Rithauddeen, leading the discussion on China by agreement with the other foreign ministers, said he "underlined the need for caution and our residual apprehension about China" to Reagan.
He said he reminded the president that "China continues to support remnants of terrorist communist parties in Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia."
The Malaysian foreign minister went on to say that the United States was forging a relationship with China "that does not take into consideration the sensitivities of the area. We mentioned that military hardware and technology given to China may unsettle us."
Rithauddeen said that Reagan responded positively and agreed that "we must watch this situation very closely." But Shultz said that Reagan "expressed our own view of the importance of working with China as it tries to undertake -- does undertake -- its modernization program."
Issues of human rights and press freedom were discussed in the Reagan-Suharto meeting, Shultz said. He declined to give details other than to say that Indonesia claimed improvement in the human rights situation in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that it invaded and annexed in 1975.