THE region’s saber-rattling days are not over, but cooler heads have emerged in the typically troubled waters of geopolitics, even if they haven’t yet prevailed over the simmering tensions between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and even if Pyongyang recently launched another dud missile.
Nobody wants to open another combat zone, another full-blown war, in a world already suffering from countless fronts of armed conflicts, from Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia, not to mention threats of inland terrorism in the US, Asia and Europe.
With many economies, large and small, still sputtering on the way to full recovery from the ravages of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, the order of the day is obviously not to start another war but to mend and grow domestic economic activity and fend off the stifling impact of protectionism on global trade.
The call for peace resonates loud and clear from Beijing, Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Trump has reached out to Asean leaders as a way of pacifying a volatile state of affairs centered on the Korean Peninsula. Beijing and Tokyo could not afford a disruptive war next door, and Asean is forging ahead with an agenda of peace and stability in the region on the way to full integration in the years to come.
The Philippines, as chairman of Asean 2017, has a vital role to play in this confluence of circumstances in global politics. President Rodrigo Duterte and his advisers must learn quickly how to play the game, especially now that Beijing and Washington have found in him a pointman.
There is no mistaking where the Philippines stands at this juncture: on a golden opportunity to total redemption from being the basket case of Asia after decades of plunder, bad governance and graft and corruption that ushered in the drug problem and human rights issues now plaguing the nation.
The challenge for Duterte is how to strike a balance between competing powers whose agenda obviously go beyond the troubled waters of the Korean Peninsula, even if that appears to be a pressing issue demanding immediate attention and resolution. Obviously, Beijing and Washington are thinking beyond the near-term horizon and are going for broke in pushing their respective bucket lists, now that Asean has emerged as a potent and dynamic force in geopolitical matters and the global economy.
Duterte must seek the counsel of his wisest advisers and rally the support of regional leaders. As chairman of Asean this year, the President must use his newfound clout and strengthen the Asean Political Community, one of the three pillars of the regional integration.
The President must lead not in his own right but as a consensus-builder if he is to emerge as a regional leader and a credible mediator between China and the US.
The stakes are high for the Philippines and Asean, which must continue to assert its role as a stabilizing force in East Asia and the Pacific, especially as it marks its 50th anniversary this year.