Challenge and Opportunity: PAX ASIA-PACIFICA

Part I

“Terrorism Dominates ASEAN Talks: World Leaders Expressed Concern About Extremist Attacks — Duterte…”

— Manila Bulletin headline, 16 November 2017

“By all indications and in many respects, the Philippine chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), capped by this week’s 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits, was an unqualified success. The agreements reached — on the protection of migrant workers, the launch of negotiations on a sea code of conduct, and new trade deals, among them— belie Western characterizations of ASEAN as a mere talk shop…”

— The Manila Times editorial, 15 November 2017

As mandated by the ASEAN Leaders in Kuala Lumpur, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) submitted its Report and Recommendations on an ASEAN Charter way back on 10 December 2006. The Report and Recommendations were forged “with best efforts” — after 8 EPG meetings around Southeast Asia over 12 months and numerous consultations with high officials, parliamentarians, civil society, and other advocacy groups — in accordance with the ASEAN Leaders’ guidance for the EPG to be “bold, innovative, and visionary.”

The Heads of State/Government (HOS/G) scheduled to assemble in Cebu during the first week of January 2007 would then approve, disapprove, or modify the broad guidelines, principles and objectives recommended by the EPG. In turn, a high-level “Task Force on the ASEAN Charter (TFAC),” with a representative from each Member-State, would write the final draft Charter. The Philippine representative to TFAC was Ambassador Nena Manalo who also served as deputy to FVR, our man in the EPG.

That Cebu ASEAN Summit chaired by President GMA some 11 years ago, was clearly a landmark event, 39 years after ASEAN’s creation by virtue of the “Bangkok Declaration” of 8-August-1967. It was also one of FVR’s most fulfilling assignments in his post-presidency period, and in which he devoted his total effort. At that critical turning point in 2006, it was time to formulate a charter that would change ASEAN into an effective, equal partner in the regional/global arenas. ASEAN also needed to maintain its relevance in the coming decades and remain a driving force for global security, particularly against the universal threats of poverty, climate change, and mindless terrorism.

Strong political will and people’s resolve. As it does require today, strong political will was essential for ASEAN’s continued success and influence. All member-states needed to exert extraordinary efforts to promote their solidarity and synergy, and build up their peoples’ collective resolve to develop a common culture of excellence and competitiveness.

The principles enshrined in ASEAN’s founding 50 years ago and during its formative years had served our peoples well and were integral to ASEAN’s future viability and integrity. At the same time, the Charter needed to align ASEAN’s goals with the realities of the 21st century for maximum clout and resilience. Accordingly, our EPG recommended that ASEAN’s basic principles and strategic objectives be reflected in the proposed Charter in these broad areas, thus:

(1) Promoting ASEAN’s peace and stability through the strengthening of democratic values, the rule of law, good governance, respect for human rights, and other fundamental freedoms; (2) Insuring ASEAN’s sustainable development and prosperity — through economic integration by way of a unified market and production base — broader technical connectivity and narrowing the development gap within and among nations; (3) Fostering ASEAN’s rich cultural heritage by greater investment in learning, empowerment of people and communities, and engagement with civil society; (4) Resolving to actualize, first, “one vision, one identity, one community” and, ultimately, “one union” within ASEAN.

ASEAN’s consensus style of decision-making had served ASEAN well. However, consensus should aid, but not impede, ASEAN’s cohesion and effectiveness.

More effective decision-making. As its range of activities increased, ASEAN should adapt stronger and more flexible decision-making mechanisms. Towards this end, the EPG in 2006 recommended:

  1. A legal personality be conferred upon ASEAN to enable it to engage in inter-regional/global proceedings as a juridical entity;
  2. Decision-making by consultation (“musyawarah”) and consensus (“mufakat”) should be retained for the most sensitive and important issues. However, if consensus could not be achieved, decisions could be made through voting (where the “majority rules”);
  3. In exceptional circumstances, the traditional policy of non-intervention could be adjusted and sanctions imposed for non-compliance as the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit may decide; and
  4. Flexible formulas such as “ASEAN minus X” or “2 plus X” could be applied, subject to the discretion of the ASEAN Leaders.

To improve the efficiency of its multiple undertakings, the streamlining of ASEAN’s annual calendar should be effected, particularly to reduce the frequency of meetings at various levels.

Taking obligations seriously. ASEAN’s problem was not one of lack of vision, initiatives, or action plans, but of ensuring compliance and effective implementation of its decisions. Thus, the EPG in 2006 recommended a culture of commitment to honor and implement decisions, agreements, and timelines that embodied:

  1. Dispute settlement mechanisms (DMSs) be established in all fields of ASEAN cooperation, including compliance-monitoring, advisory, consultation, and enforcement mechanisms;
  2. ASEAN exercise of the power to enforce measures to redress cases of serious breach of ASEAN’s objectives, principles, and commitments regarding important agreements.

Failure to comply would be referred to the leaders’ summit, which could impose such measures as suspension of any of the rights and privileges of membership.

Regional integration; narrowing the development gap. ASEAN’s ambition of deeper and broader cooperation entailed greater political commitment from the leaders and their willingness to be more flexible in their decision-making for the common good. To the EPG in 2006, the key to ASEAN’s future clout lay in being more competitive, increasing the size of the ASEAN economic pie, and exploiting various opportunities for win-win agreements with ASEAN’s dialogue and development partners. Effective resource mobilization and the creation of a single market and production base with the free movement of capital, goods, technology, talents, and labor, along with efforts to harmonize regional economic policies were extremely crucial. To ensure that ASEAN could grow and benefit collectively, the development gap had to be narrowed following the Asian tradition of “prosper thy neighbor.”

The EPG in 2006 recommended that ASEAN:

  1. Continue to uphold the principle of equal contribution in line with the principle of equal treatment accorded to Member-States;
  2. Establish a Special Fund for narrowing the “Development Gap,” with voluntary contributions from Member-States; and (3) Mobilize more funds and support from ASEAN’S private business sectors and multilateral institutions.

Other sustainable ways of raising funds and building up assets could be implemented so that ASEAN could rely more on its own resources.

The ASEAN Secretariat. The Secretary-General and the Secretariat (last restructured in the early 1990s) play a pivotal role in carrying out ASEAN’s goals. Recognizing that the Secretariat should enhance its research, analysis, planning, and monitoring capabilities, the EPG in 2006 recommends that:

  1. Full-time Permanent Representatives of Member-States (Ambassadors), be based in Jakarta. Dialogue Partners also should accredit Ambassadors to ASEAN;
  2. An ASEAN Institute be established to support the Secretary-General in research, policy analysis, strategic planning, and outreach programs as well as collaborate with “Track II” organizations.

The Secretary-General should be supported by 4, instead of the current 2, deputy Secretaries-General (DSGs) to assist him in overseeing economic, socio-cultural, political-security cooperation, external relations, and administrative and budgetary affairs.

Towards a people-centered ASEAN. ASEAN needed to shed its image of being an “elitist” organization consisting exclusively of diplomats, high officials and bureaucrats. More had to be done to broaden people-to-people ties among member-states, and develop new channels for consultation among institutions —parliamentarians (organized as the ASEAN inter-parliamentary assembly, or AIPA) and various sector groups or NGOs within civil society. Towards this goal, the EPG recommended to nurture ASEAN as a people-centered organization, and strengthen the sense of ownership and belonging among stakeholders, particularly parliamentarians, representatives of civil society, the private sector, human rights groups, academic institutions, inter-faith advocates, environmental conservationists, consumer-protection associations, cooperatives and veterans.

All of the above factors constituted tremendous new challenges to ASEAN’s leaders and peoples that demanded not only their “best, but total” efforts. Nevertheless, the rewards in terms of first achieving “one vision, one identity, one community,” and ultimately “one union” for an enduring ASEAN are well worth the energy, intellect, creativity, and even sacrifice invested.

Were ASEAN leaders in 2006-2007 up to it? No, because they did not adopt the “Majority Rule.” (Ask Ambassador Nena Manalo. (She’s retired but not tired).

2030: A better future for all. By way of highlighting the U.N.’s 70th anniversary last September 2015, the 193-member general assembly (UNGA) adopted a new agenda for 2030 to end suffering in all its forms —consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, tackle climate change, and ensure peace with justice for all within the next 15 years. This is how the world of 2030 should be — to become a more harmonious family of global partnerships! ASEAN’s deeper integration by year 2015 could well become the prime mover for our larger dream of a “United Nations 2030” through the fulfillment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals!

Part II

“China and the Philippines have agreed to avoid force to resolve their differences over the South China Sea, according to a joint statement issued on Thursday by China at the end of a visit to Manila by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.”

–– Manila Bulletin/Reuters/Xinhua, 18-November-2017

China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, although their relations have improved considerably under President Duterte. Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines claim some of the South China Sea and its myriad shoals, reefs, and islands, while China claims most of the waterway and has been aggressively building and militarizing artificial islands. Hence, the “shadow-fighting” and heightened tensions continue.

The above-quoted joint statement said China and the Philippines reaffirmed the importance of peace in the South China Sea and of freedom of navigation and over-flight. There should be no violence or threats of violence and the dispute should be resolved via talks between the “relevant sovereign countries,” it added. Given the recent developments in both China and India, a new wave of growth is rising in Asia. And this new wave of growth holds tremendous opportunities for all in the Asia-Pacific. Such forthcoming regional progress also poses a challenge and opportunity for ASEAN countries —and that is, for us to preserve the umbrella of peace and stability that has enabled virtually the whole of East Asia to develop at the world’s fastest rate during these last 30 years.

China’s centrality. This challenge will not be easy to resolve —since Asia does not lack flashpoints of potential conflict. In its drive for great power status, China will continue to restore its historical centrality in East Asia by way of its reclamation and military reinforcement of certain reefs and islets of the South China Sea. The U.N. Arbitral Ruling of 12-July-2016 in favor of the Philippines on the so-called 9-dash line of imperial Chinas has been truly welcomed by most in ASEAN —except those now aligned with China— but for the moment, this is not enforceable… so, that’s another story.

Then there are the potential flash points over energy resources, in rising Islamic militancy in the Philippines, Indonesia and other SEA countries and, most worrying of all, the unstable, newly nuclearized Pyongyang regime on the Korean Peninsula. A major component of the equation, of course, the U.S. which has regarded itself —since the 1890s— as an Asia-Pacific power, and which is expected to continue to assert its economic, political, and security interests in our region.

Improved Philippine-China relations? Last week, SND Delfin Lorenzana said the multilateral decision not to further bolster military buildups in the region is based on the commitment of ASEAN member-nations to respect sovereignty and dialogue in settling territorial disputes. He said, “There’s no need for a Philippine military buildup in the Spratlys Archipelago as the security environment in the region is seen to have greatly improved under President Duterte …” (Philippine Star, 18-November-2017).

Beijing, which claims almost the entire South China Sea and whose island building activities have sparked tensions in the region, has agreed on the need for a Code of Conduct to avert miscalculation in disputed waters. The cessation of military buildups in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea would also pave the way for the unhampered development of civilian/military facilities on Pagasa Island and other outposts in the Kalayaan Island Group.

Our government is building a port on Pagasa Island to allow Navy cargo vessels to unload construction materials for the improvement of facilities therein, including concreting of an airfield good for heavy transport aircraft.

China as growth engine for ASEAN. In the face of potential conflicts, the smaller Southeast Asian States should intensify their long-avowed commitments at economic, political, and socio-cultural consolidation by way of a new ASEAN charter ratified last November 2007 during the tenure of President GMA. As ASEAN plus China expands to incorporate Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, all of Asia should be able to sustain economic growth from within itself — because of its increasingly wealthy home-market and its large savings pool.

Not coincidentally, economic cooperation has generated political side-benefits. For instance, an informal agreement has enabled China and the Philippines (later joined by Vietnam) to set aside the sovereignty issue in their conflicting claims on the Spratlys, thus, enabling their national oil corporations to explore jointly for hydrocarbon resources. Nevertheless, the ASEAN States share Japanese apprehensions that, as China’s power increases, the latter might start to dictate the rules for regional transactions whether in trade, investment, environment, or even security.

Regional Integration as the Global Norm. Over the foreseeable future, an East Asian economic grouping —even if it takes off— is unlikely to develop beyond a free-trade area, to match earlier integration movements in Europe and in the two American continents. Right now, the Asians are still a long way from reducing the trade barriers among themselves and creating a single home-market that can rival China’s in the eyes of foreign investors. Given the stalemate in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) in further liberalizing global trade, regional aggregations to create economic scale will likely become the building blocks of global trade and investment over these coming decades. Certainly, all the ASEAN leaders live with the apprehension that the alternative to regional unity is to become marginalized in global economic competition. Among these regional groupings, Southeast Asia could become the greatest since it would have vigorous growth engines —China, Japan and India— plus upcoming ones like South Korea.

Photo taken during the 50th Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Gala Dinner, 7-August-2017, Manila, Philippines

From Pax Americana to Pax Asia-Pacifica. Over the next 10-15 years, the task for our statesmen would be to replace the American peace (Pax Americana) that has enforced stability in the Asia-Pacific region with a Pax Asia-Pacifica. Unlike the American peace — which at bottom is exclusively based on American’s military might— an Asia-Pacific peace would be the “peace of virtual equals.” A shift from Pax Americana (or peace and security guaranteed by the power of American arms) to a Pax Asia-Pacifica in our region could well be the answer in which the major countries and sub-regional blocs adhere to the concept of SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea). SOLAS is the primary mission of the Philippine Coast Guard, which consists of the two components of maritime law-enforcement, and calamity prevention and mitigation.

As regional neighbors and partners, we now should exploit the convergence of interests that the U.S., Japan, China, India, Russia, ASEAN, Canada, Pakistan, Australia-New Zealand, a unified nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, and others share in a peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific — just as the western Europeans exploited the Cold War stalemate between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to consolidate and expand the European Union.

The Asia-Pacific Peace will be a cooperative security system based not on the “balance of power” but on the “balance of mutual benefit.” Clearly, this concept will involve burden-sharing by all nations in the Asia-Pacific in contributing forces to insure the region’s peace and security. It must be built on a collaborative agreement among the most affluent, and most powerful, countries in our part of the world — the United States, Japan, India and China. Indeed, a constructive Chinese role in helping to organize the Asia-Pacific peace would demonstrate China’s commitment to becoming the “responsible stakeholder” that Washington has challenged Beijing to become.

Therefore, the weapons of mass destruction (WMD), such as nuclear missiles, aircraft carriers, fighter-bombers will be replaced by more educational assets, hospital ships and recovery helicopters to fight poverty, hunger, diseases, climate change and development gaps — which are now the universal enemies of mankind. Our multilateral shift from mutually assured destruction (MAD) to SOLAS would surely prolong man’s bountiful survival.

The Nuclear Threat: Cooperation or Competition? The top U.S. Nuclear Commander was quoted by the international media as saying last week he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons. CBS News reported Air Force Gen. John Hyten, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said these words to an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada. That’s good enough to trump President Trump. In the end, of course, relations among the great Asia-Pacific powers will always be an inter-play of competition and cooperation.

The strategic challenge will be for all our countries, leaders and organizations devoted to regional cooperation to ensure that the spirit of cooperation is always stronger than the competitive impulse. Only if we are able to optimize our caring, sharing, and daring for each other and for the younger ones after us will we be able to ride this coming wave of sustained peace and prosperity for the benefit of all our peoples.


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