AEC Vision 2025 – A Sectoral Contribution of the Philippines to Maritime Connectivity and Ocean Governance

The Philippines will be hosting the 31st ASEAN Summit later this year, at mid-century of its founding and into the second year of the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. The 50th year of the ASEAN also marks a milestone with the implementation of the AEC Blueprint 2025, which is the second phase of constructing the AEC. The Philippines must take these important ASEAN milestones as an opportunity to project national concerns and core interests in the context of ASEAN regional integration and consolidation. It must seize the opportunity to promote regional ocean governance as a core regional interest for the AEC, projecting a core interest of the Philippines.

IntroductionA Philippines core national interest and an ASEAN core regional interest

This article hopes to contribute to the continuing narrative on ASEAN economic/political integration and consolidation, and a “caring and sharing” community-building under the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. At this juncture, the core national interests of the Philippines as a millennial archipelagic State must already be introduced to the regional and international context through an independent foreign policy that is ASEAN-centered and oriented towards the wider Central Indo-Pacific region, under AEC Vision 2025, paragraph 8.7. In the ASEAN community-building narrative, the Philippines must project its core interests especially in transitioning from an archipelago and maritime nation to an archipelagic State created under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The concept of an archipelagic State is an economic/political characterization, which the Philippines historically espoused as an added essential element of its Statehood as a mid-ocean archipelago. The so-called “archipelagic doctrine” articulates and reflects the ancient and traditional animus among the early tribal inhabitants of the islands that later comprised the Philippines archipelago. Since those very early times, time immemorial, the pre-Spanish inhabitants of the islands comprising the archipelago were mostly coastal communities and settlements with a natural affinity with the sea, and thus the sense of a “unity between land and sea.” Presently, between 80-85% of municipalities and cities in the country is never more than a hundred kilometers from the coast.

The projection of the archipelagic concept to the international political plane was pioneered by the Philippines at the three United Nations Conferences on the Law of the Sea; among the longest and largest diplomatic conference process that spanned three decades. For the Philippines, the incorporation of the regime of the archipelagic State in the UNCLOS represents a hard-won success at diplomacy, wherein the leading maritime nations of the world were ranged against it. Thenceforth, the Philippines will have to continue work at progressive development of the international regime of the archipelagic State at UNCLOS Part IV, through customary State practice. The legal regime itself and not just its UNCLOS juridical implementation, is so much work still in progress. For example, an intractable issue then as it is up to the present time is defining what constitutes freedom of navigation through archipelagic waters, otherwise known as the right of archipelagic sealanes passage. This is a vessel transit regime that necessarily would be mainly governed through domestic rules and regulations albeit also necessarily balanced with the rights of foreign vessels. This domestic projection towards foreign policy under the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 would serve core interests of the Philippines alongside its own national visioning, positioning and constructing for the Asian Century.

This suggested initiative of the Philippines within the ASEAN, implementing and further developing the UNCLOS regime of the archipelagic State, would be significantly contributory to the AEC community-building “forging ahead together,” in regard to maritime connectivity and ocean governance. This is due to the fact that the ASEAN seas and the Central Indo-Pacific maritime region is flanked in its eastern longitudes by the three largest archipelagic States in a north-south adjacency alignment i.e., Philippines, Indonesia and Papua-New Guinea. On account of the importance of maritime connectivity and ocean governance to AEC economic/political integration and consolidation, the ASEAN must assume its role as the “central and foremost facilitator and driver of regional economic integration in East Asia” (AEC Vision 2025, paragraph 10.5) addressing maritime connectivity through ocean governance and maritime security. Even at this point in time, the ASEAN can intercalate inputs into the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Strategic Framework and the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity (APSB, paragraph 8.7), and shaping the regional maritime and ocean governance architecture (APSB, paragraph 7). To reiterate, ocean governance and maritime security is a collective regional core interest for the ASEAN region and East Asia, burdened with more than half of the world’s maritime trade and shipping volume quantified at US$5.3 Trillion annually. Ocean governance is also essential in establishing maritime connectivity. And, the Philippines is the strategic regional epicenter in all aspects of ocean governance and maritime security, whether traditional or non-traditional concerns and issues; and in the thick of a maritime disputes situation that can be a drag on regional integration and consolidation. The Philippines contribution to the ASEAN integration and consolidation process, at this point in time through AEC 2025, would be in ocean governance and maritime security, projecting a core national interest.

The AEC Vision 2025 Blueprint for a Political – Security Community (APSB)

The broad characteristics for the ASEAN Political-Security Community in the AEC Vision 2025 is laid out at paragraphs 7 and 8 of the vision Statement issued by the ASEAN Heads of State/Governments during the 27th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur that established the ASEAN Community 2015. As a Political-Security Community, the AEC Vision 2025 exhorts that the ASEAN “shall remain cohesive, responsive and relevant in addressing challenges to regional peace and security as well as play a central role in shaping the evolving regional architecture while deepening (our) engagement with external parties and contributing collectively to global peace and stability” (AEC Vision 2025, paragraph 7). To this end, the ASEAN “undertake to realize” a Political-Security Community that, among other broad characteristics:

  • “adopts a comprehensive approach to security which enhances (our) capacity to address effectively and in a timely manner existing and emerging challenges, including non-traditional security issues particularly transnational crimes and transboundary challenges” (AEC Vision 2025, paragraph 8.4);
  • “that enhances maritime security and maritime cooperation for peace and stability in the region and beyond … and adopts internationally accepted maritime conventions and principles” (AEC Vision 2025, paragraph 8.7);
  • “that … deepens cooperation with Dialogue Partners, strengthens engagement with other external parties, reaches out to potential partners, as well as responds collectively and constructively to global developments and issues of common concern” (AEC Vision2025, paragraph 8.9).

The above are among broad political-security characteristics that the ASEAN “undertake to realize” for ASEAN Vision 2025 as contained in the ASPB, that impacts on maritime security and ocean governance. This is what defines a sectoral lead role for the Philippines, contributory to ASEAN integration and consolidation, projecting its own core national interests.

Constructing maritime security, connectivity, and ocean governance under the ASEAN Vision 2025

Maritime Asia, which cradles the seas of the ASEAN region and the Central Indo-Pacific, is an archipelagic continent; the classic regional thalassocracy wherein the sea dominates the land by natural design and configuration. The seas of the ASEAN and the Central Indo-Pacific collectively are a regional common heritage that must be managed and nurtured comprehensively and seamlessly through joint cooperation among States concerned, whether regional stakeholders or extra-regional interested States (UNCLOS Part IX). The archipelagic waters of the Philippines are also interconnected enclosed/semi-enclosed seas with the archipelagic waters of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea; a regional maritime setting wherein vessel transit, freedom of navigation, exploitation and conservation of marine resources, protection of the marine environment and biodiversity, integrated coastal zone management (and thus food security), transborder marine pollution, and adverse effects of climate change, which are aspects of non-traditional maritime security concerns/issues and transboundary challenges (AEC Vision 2025, paragraph 8.4), are ever-present active or latent transborder issues that can affect regional peace, security, and good order. These non-traditional maritime security concerns in a very significant way contributes to defining the broad characteristics for a 2025 ASEAN political-security community.

It is clear that in the ASEAN community-building as a virtual maritime community, non-traditional maritime security issues and transboundary challenges is the other side of the coin in regard to comprehensive security that must be enhanced under the AEC Vision 2025, and about which the ASEAN must remain cohesive, responsive and relevant in addressing as challenges to regional peace and security; playing the central role in shaping the political/security architecture. It is in this aspect of comprehensive security, the non-traditional maritime security concerns, where the Philippines can assign to itself a signal national contribution to the AEC Vision 2025 integration and consolidation. It can carve a sectoral role focused on maritime security and ocean governance, and assume the leadership role in establishing regional ocean governance and connectivity under the legal and scientific framework of the UNCLOS, and in particular at Part IX thereof on enclosed/semi-enclosed sea. The Philippines stake and leadership in regional ocean governance on account of its strategic location would be contributory not only to maritime connectivity in regard to the ASEAN and AEC Vision 2025 economic/political integration and consolidation but even beyond (AEC Vision 2025. paragraph 8.7); implying the wider Central Indo-Pacific in regard to constructing and ensuring regional maritime peace, good order and security. This is an essential and indispensable role for the Philippines that stems from its highly strategic location as an archipelagic State with archipelagic waters and territorial seas forming the Pacific Ocean rampart of maritime Asia, and the South China Sea.

The Philippines, while putting its archipelagic house in order in all aspects of domestic nation-building as an archipelagic State, must take the lead in constructing regional ocean governance and maritime security to help establish the broad characteristics under AEC Vision 2025 especially in regard to maritime connectivity, and establish the clear direction for the next (third) and succeeding phases of AEC construction. In this manner, a pioneering regional role, it would be constructing its own archipelagic house while working on a shared regional blueprint with Indonesia and Papua-New Guinea for interconnected archipelagic seas that are also interconnected enclosed/semi-enclosed seas. This humongous regional sea area is a Large Marine Ecoregion (LME) sharing characteristic regional features (UNCLOS Article 197). Finally, in regard to regional ocean governance and the leadership stake for the Philippines, it must never lose sight that ocean governance and maritime security is a core national interest of the Philippines as an archipelagic State highly vulnerable to all maritime issues and concerns straddling traditional and non-traditional maritime security. And on account of the connectivity of the ocean especially in the context of the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific seas as a Large Marine Ecoregion (LME) sharing characteristic regional features, regional ocean governance and maritime security is a core regional interest for establishing maritime connectivity significantly contributory and essential to AEC integration and consolidation.

In another vein and in regard to political-security community-building and inclusivity, a constructive historical double-take would be a geographic reconstruction of the larger Indo-Pacific ancient regional community. And hence, following recent worldwide events relating to an expanded sometimes called “open regionalism,” it might be time for the ASEAN to actively consider the next phase of expansion in membership by formalizing the long-running Observer status of Papua-New Guinea, Sri-Lanka and East Timor to full membership. This suggestion might be a “subversive” thought to some of the current ASEAN member States that would adhere to a strict geographic regionalism and inclusivity. It would however be worthwhile “planting the seeds” for beyond ASEAN Vision 2025 as the next phase of ASEAN integration and consolidation as therein impliedly suggested at paragraph 8.7. This step would also help integrate and consolidate on a wider regional ocean governance scheme and maritime good order, which would serve the overarching principles underpinning the UNCLOS as enunciated in its Preamble.

The AEC Vision 2025 Blueprint for the ASEAN Economic Community (AECB)

The AEC Vision 2025 envisions an ASEAN Economic Community “with enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation …” As broadly defined, the AEC Vision 2025 “undertake to achieve”, among other broad characteristics, the following:

  • 10.3 – Enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation with improvements in regional frameworks, including strategic sectoral policies vital to the effective operationalisation of the economic community;
  • 10.5 – A global ASEAN that is “a central and foremost facilitator and driver of regional economic integration in East Asia…” There is nothing much to say on the above AECB aspects, essentially motherhood statements, but merely to emphasize and restate that ocean governance, maritime security and connectivity reflected above, is a principal facilitator for regional economic integration and consolidation in the context of AEC Vision 2025, and beyond. It must be noted that same sense is essentially conveyed in the previous chapter on the Blueprint for Political-Security Community.

The AEC Vision 2025 Blueprint for Socio-Cultural Community (ASCB)

The ASCB is laid out at paragraphs 11 and 12 of the vision Statement where the key descriptive phrase and terminology is of an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community that “shall be inclusive, sustainable, resilient and dynamic.” The relevant socio-cultural elements and broad characteristics that can be related to ocean governance and maritime security, follows:

  • 12.3 – A sustainable community that promotes social development and environmental protection through effective mechanisms to meet the current and future needs of our peoples;
  • 12.4 – A resilient community with enhanced capacity and capability to adapt and respond to social and economic vulnerabilities, disasters, climate change as well as emerging threats and challenges.

It will be noted that the two aspects above, highlighting social development and environmental protection, and community resilience, which has reference to non-traditional security concerns, those similarly treated in the APSB and AECB. Although seemingly understated in the overall AEC Vision 2025 as regards to its importance to ASEAN maritime connectivity and thus integration and consolidation, ocean governance and maritime security in the context of maritime Southeast/ East Asia is essential to maritime peace, good order and security. To emphasize, a regional pacem en maribus is essential for a conducive atmosphere towards ASEAN integration and consolidation promoted under AEC Vision 2025, and in establishing maritime connectivity. The legal/scientific framework and platform serving the ASEAN Vision 2025 Socio-Cultural Community could be holistically pursued under UNCLOS Part IX and at UNCLOS Parts X, XII and XIII and relevant other general duties and obligations under international law (AEC Vision 2025 at paragraph 8.7 cited above). A specific and flagship project that the Philippines can pursue under the above broad socio-cultural characteristics would be Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), which would benefit the coastal regions of maritime Asia in regard to food security and disaster mitigation.

A separate matter but related to the AEC Vision 2025 socio-cultural mantra addresses another regional maritime concern that is the Spratlys archipelago disputes situation. This is another core interest of the Philippines that could adversely affect ASEAN integration and consolidation. It might be desirable to consciously insinuate into the contemporary ASEAN narrative, a historical ASEAN double-take leaning towards an active reintroduction of the ancient Madjapahit and Shri-Visayan social and cultural norms of musyawarah (consultations) and mufakat (consensus). These established regional socio-cultural norms can be adapted to address contemporary socio-cultural issues in the new economic/political integrationist direction under the AEC Vision 2025 as restated in the APSB (AEC Vision 2025, paragraph 8.5). In a manner of speaking these regional socio-cultural traits are reflected in ASCB, paragraph 12.5, thus: “A dynamic and harmonious community that is aware and proud of its identity, culture and heritage with the strengthened ability to innovate and proactively contribute to the global community.” These are ancient core regional socio-cultural values articulated in the Bandung Declaration of 1955 and further manifested and modernized in the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (ASEAN-TAC).

The ASEAN seas and the seas of the Central Indo-Pacific with its non-traditional maritime concerns is rife with potential and latent conflict situations that must be addressed the Asian Way. The South China Sea dispute situation, especially post The Hague PCA arbitral ruling that has not contributed in any manner to a peaceful resolution of the dispute situation, may yet be better addressed in a new direction under the ASEAN-TAC and in the spirit of the AEC Vision 2025. In this regard, even the UNCLOS and thus rules-based, reflects the musyawarah/mufakat spirit at its opening preambular paragraph that “The States Parties to this Convention, prompted by the desire to settle, in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, all issues relating to the law of the sea.

Participatory roles of ASEAN Dialogue Partners in AEC Vision 2025 constructing regional maritime security and connectivity.

The structural set-up of the ASEAN as a regional organization allows for “open regionalism” through so-called Dialogue Partner arrangements. Among existing Dialogue Partners that the ASEAN can engage in a stakeholder participatory arrangement for cooperation in regional maritime security and ocean governance would be Australia, China, the European Union, Japan and the USA. China can participate in two capacities: (1) as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner, and (2) as an UNCLOS State Party bordering the South China Sea as an enclosed/semi-enclosed sea (UNCLOS Part IX).

Australia, Japan, the EU and the USA can also participate in two capacities: (1) as ASEAN Dialogue Partners, and (2) as “other interested States” under UNCLOS Part IX (Article 123). Moreover, maritime cooperation with Dialogue Partners can also be pursued as a universal obligation among States Parties to the UNCLOS provided for in its Annex VI (Resolution on development of national marine science, technology and ocean service infrastructures), and under a North-South and South-South mutual assistance as provided in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It can be seen however, that in whichever category of stakeholder participation attaching to any concerned or interested countries can be undertaken in a unified ocean governance umbrella whether under the ASEAN or through a regional institutional mechanism under UNCLOS Part IX (Article 123).

There are already ongoing ocean-related cooperation between ASEAN and aforementioned countries whether bilaterally or under ASEAN auspices. These existing arrangements would constitute the initial building blocks towards a coherent, comprehensive and seamless regional maritime joint cooperation. In regard to Australia, Japan, the EU, and the USA, as extra-regional “other interested States” under UNCLOS Part IX (Article 123), their duties and responsibilities in regard to regional ocean governance is not a “feel good” altruistic motivation. They carry duties and responsibilities on account of shipping activities as “user” States; activities that carries threats to the marine environment and safety and security of navigation. China with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) regional maritime infrastructure project would be additionally obliged to actively participate in regional ocean governance as a duty and responsibility. The EU and ASEAN have an ongoing ASEAN-EU High-Level Dialogue on Maritime Cooperation. Very recently, the European Commission together with the EU High Representative issued a Joint Communication on international ocean governance, in which the ASEAN can align its own ocean governance program. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which necessarily is an “interested international organization” under UNCLOS Article 123, must participate. So must the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the case of the IMO, the Philippines can reiterate a 1996 standing proposal and invitation for the IMO to establish a Regional Office headquartered in the Philippines.

Conclusion: Regional maritime security and ocean governance – the call of the times for AEC Vision 2025; and a leadership call for the Philippines

The Philippines is the quintessential archipelagic State and the front-line coastal State for all regional challenges and issues relating to traditional and non-traditional maritime security concerns. Equally significant, it has the historical “baggage” and “lessons learned” that led it to constructing itself with a domestic mold of the “archipelago concept”. The archipelago concept served as the legal and scientific framework for the archipelagic State enshrined in the UNCLOS (Part IV). The Philippines is the strategic marine geological microcosm embodying all maritime concerns. Consistent with its political circumstances and blue economy resources, the Philippines must concentrate on addressing non-traditional maritime security concerns and challenges. It must assume leadership in extrapolating those concerns regionally that is the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific seas; a State duty and responsibility imposed by nature and political circumstances. It is clear that in all aspects of ASEAN Community-building under the AEC Vision 2025, whether Political/Security, Economic, and Socio-Cultural, ocean governance and maritime security, peace and good order is essential to facilitating integration and consolidation. And the archipelagic continent that is maritime Asia, East Asia or Central Indo-Pacific, however the geographic region is politically or economically conceived to be, the Philippines is the front-line State in regard to all possible maritime challenges, and the fulcrum for ocean governance and maritime security. Regional ocean governance leadership for the Philippines is not about an altruistic projection of a subjective national interest but an international responsibility under UNCLOS.

Finally, the Philippines is the front-line in the Spratlys archipelago dispute situation. Everything it can do to promote joint cooperation in addressing non-traditional maritime security and ocean governance concerns, whether as confidence-building measures (CBMs) or as provisional measures pending a peaceful settlement of the conflict situation, would surely contribute to alleviating the political tensions in the wider region. And this mission and vision would call to mind UNCLOS Preambular paragraph 4 which recognizes “the desirability of establishing … a legal order for the seas and oceans which will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment”. The abiding national marine/maritime policy guidance for the Philippines must always be the UNCLOS, which is the lynchpin and underpinning of the Philippines archipelagic State. And so it is for the ASEAN and Central Indo-Pacific maritime region.

The Philippines must seize the moment. The 2017 hosting of the ASEAN Summit would be the best, and possibly the only, opportunity for the Philippines to stake and define for itself a leadership role in constructing regional ocean governance and maritime security. Borrowing some famous words, the same classic question must have motivated and played in the minds of the authors of the archipelagic State led by Senator Arturo M. Tolentino, thus:

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”