ASEAN region: Center of attention

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

Group photo of ASEAN Heads of State | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The flurry of activities in the Southeast Asian region with a series of high-level summits and meetings this whole week only brings into focus the importance of ASEAN’s role on the global stage.

After almost three years of no human contact, the ASEAN summit is being held in person, with high expectations that the discussions will be substantial on several issues that include sustainable and inclusive recovery from COVID-19, food security, trade and investment, climate change, and other burning issues such as the situation in Myanmar, the war in Ukraine, the threat of missile tests conducted by North Korea as well as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The ASEAN summits and related summits were an opportunity for the leaders from ASEAN member-nations (with the exception of Myanmar, which is barred due to the takeover of a military junta) and their dialog partners that include Australia, Canada, China, Japan, India, South Korea, the United States plus the United Nations to “review existing and new areas of cooperation and exchange views on regional and international issues,” as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. described it.

Then there is the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, where US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to attend, with a bilateral meeting on the sidelines. It will be the first time the two leaders will have a face-to-face meeting for an “in-depth and substantive conversation… aimed at better understanding one another’s priorities and intentions,” according to a senior official of the Biden administration.

Like the ASEAN summit (where Ukraine and the regional group signed the “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia”), Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the G-20 summit. However, there is the possibility that he will join virtually. Analysts say the non-attendance of Putin at the ASEAN summit did not come as a surprise, especially since Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has openly expressed “concern” over Russia’s attack on Ukraine – the lives lost, the damage to civilian infrastructure and other consequences of the ongoing war which began in February.

Following the G-20 summit is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok, Thailand, with US Vice President Kamala Harris in attendance. State Secretary Antony Blinken is also joining to advance “economic policies in the Asia-Pacific region to promote free, fair and open trade and investment.” Secretary Blinken will also be supporting VP Harris in underscoring the economic leadership of the United States and outlining their goals for the 2023 APEC, which the US will be hosting for the first time since 2011.

“All the world’s citizens – Russians, Chinese, Americans, and definitely Filipinos – do not want a nuclear war, knowing fully well that there will be no winners – only losers. In the end, the world will only see darkness and never see the light of day ever again.”

These high-level meetings in the region revolve around significant issues that have a wide-reaching global impact while also underscoring ASEAN centrality and its role in promoting multinational relations. More significantly, the series of summits also provides an opportunity for the regional bloc to showcase its ability to convene global leaders to “meet and dialogue” and bring about a “defusion of tensions,” according to Sharon Seah, a senior fellow at the Singapore-based think-tank ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

And as we in the ASEAN diplomatic community have been telling our friends in Washington, the Southeast Asian region is the right place now where all of these big powers can start a dialogue or, at the very least, have personal interaction. ASEAN diplomats are pleased that these meetings are taking place because it doesn’t happen all the time that you can have these leaders in one place where there is an opportunity for serious discussions.

For the past two years, meetings between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping have been conducted virtually, and all are hoping there would be some constructive results through the in-person meetings, bringing about a better understanding or appreciation of each other’s perspectives or positions on complicated issues involving both superpowers.

All of us in ASEAN feel that there is only one way out – and that is through continuing dialogue which has always been the stand of the Philippines. “While we may continue to argue or even disagree on many issues, we will try to convince and persuade until we find a peaceful resolution,” President Marcos has always said.

It goes without saying that Taiwan remains to be a hot-button issue. President Biden had said that when he speaks with President Xi, he wants to “lay out what each of our red lines are and understand what he believed to be in the critical national interests of China, what I know to be the critical interests of the United States.”

During the “Asia Future Summit” organized by The Straits Times, all the panelists agreed that any war between the two superpowers should definitely be avoided at all costs as the consequences would be disastrous for all. As Harvard professor Graham Allison clearly pointed out, China and the US will have to co-exist because the alternative would be co-destruction.

We all know what a conflict can do, which is happening in Ukraine now, where we only see so much death and destruction. It is no longer about politics but the destruction and annihilation of mankind. “What God created, man destroys” is what it all boils down to.

All the world’s citizens – Russians, Chinese, Americans, and definitely Filipinos – do not want a nuclear war, knowing fully well that there will be no winners – only losers. In the end, the world will only see darkness and never see the light of day ever again.

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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