SOUTH Korea’s former top diplomat urged members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to push multilateralism amid growing anti-globalization sentiment across the world.
Han Sung Joo made the call in a forum in Makati City ahead of the Asean community’s 50th anniversary on August 8, and as Manila hosts a meeting of Asean foreign ministers and a regional security forum this weekend.
“I think the most urgent issue is not how to update and change the current rules, but how to deal with the challenge of multilateralism that comes from unilateralistic impulses, nativistic nationalism and anti-globalization,” Han said in his lecture.
Former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, chairman of Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi), echoed this, saying: “Bringing Asean citizens to feel kinship and a shared stake in the association is an enormous and incomplete task for the socio-cultural community. But it has to be done, because our region’s identity will be an anchor for stability and will drive future action.”
But del Rosario took the occasion to hit what he called Asean’s “outmoded governance system” or consensus approach to decision-making.
Del Rosario has been critical of China’s influence over Asean, which had resulted in Asean statements downplaying territorial disputes over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
As Foreign Affairs chief under the previous Aquino government, del Rosario lodged an arbitration case against Beijing over the sea dispute before a United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague. Manila won the case in 2016, after the tribunal invalidated Beijing’s claims to disputed territory in the contested waters.
“The consensus approach, where a single country can block a decision, is responsible for the difficulty in reaching a unanimous decision. The consensus system empowers the few over the many and contributes to why Asean is adrift. Continuing this outmoded system allows an outsider to take advantage of the decision-making process. Are we ready to hand over our sovereignty and sovereign rights to a tyranny of the minority?” del Rosario said.
Robert Romulo, chairman of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation, said: “The world has moved on from a unipolar center of power [of the United States]to one where multipolar centers of geopolitical and economic powers compete for allegiance in return for benefits.”
More united Asean needed
Asean should define its own leadership even as its space for political action is becoming more constrained, said Dindo Manhit, president of ADRi.
“Over the last decade or so, Southeast Asia had witnessed a protracted power play between Washington and Beijing in relation to the vital sea lanes in the South China Sea. The Asean nations themselves, including the group, had played minor roles even as the two powers tried to exert dominance in the region.”
“By becoming a more united bloc with a strong sense of regional identity, Asean will cement its role as a key player in the international arena,” Manhit said.
He cited China’s militarization of South China Sea, in defiance of the arbitration ruling handed down last year, as “an important geopolitical turn in the region that is hard to ignore.”
“China’s increasing assertiveness is not only disturbing the region’s security architecture, it is also undermining Asean’s internal cohesion and quest for centrality in East Asian affairs,” he said.
“Only a stronger sense of Asean identity can tilt the balance away from Beijing and Washington and enable the region and its people to chart their own growth and progress,” Manhit said.
Stance vs Pyongyang
On Friday, Manila said it would consult Asean members and come up with a common stance in dealing with North Korea in connection with the latter’s continued missile testing.
In a chance interview on Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that as chairman of the Asean and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) this year, the role of the Philippines is to get the consensus and implement it.
“As the Philippines, we can stand. But as chairman we are only there to preside, not to command,” said Cayetano in the “Asean at Fifty: The Way Forward” forum at Manila Polo Club in Makati City.
Cayetano was responding to queries on whether the Philippines would take a strong position against North Korea in light of its missile testing.
“First of all we don’t believe in nuclearization. We don’t believe in nuclear weapons. It’s in our constitution,” Cayetano said.
The ARF is the region’s annual security forum, drawing ministers from 27 countries.
with JOVILAND RITA