Amid the military coup in Thailand, riots in Vietnam and escalating tensions in the South China Sea, the three-day World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia ended on Friday with a word of caution to participating countries against taking any unilateral action that would undermine the region’s political and economic security.
Laura Del Rosario, Philippine Undersecretary of Department of Foreign Affairs International Economic Relations, said any unilateral action undertaken by any country could derail proper implementation of the planned Asean economic integration in 2015.
The integration will involve the establishment of a common market among countries in the region, including the Philippines.
“We don’t want to encourage the actors of this integration to engage in unilateral actions that would create a narrower space for cooperation,” Del Rosario said during a session on the last day of the 23rd WEF, held in the financial district of Makati on Friday.
Del Rosario called for a balance between the interests of Asean as a group and those of individual nations.
“We need to study, re-examine, and re-define what we mean by Asean centrality. More and more we are beginning to see that there’s tension now between the interests of Asean as a group and national interest. If we cannot balance this, then there will be a problem in terms of cooperation,” Del Rosario said.
The territorial disputes that have caused tensions in the region for decades now were highlighted as an issue that needed to be resolved in pursuit of that security.
“We got the historical, traditional territorial disputes that are going on. We have to make some decisions on how to deal with those issues,” Samuel Locklear 3rd, commander of the United States Pacific Command, said in a session during the forum.
“The Asia Pacific region, because of its economic growth, is also the most militarized region. This is where militaries are going…. All the large navies are here. How these forces are managed to create a fabric of security that allows economic success has not yet been determined,” he added, pointing out the need for multilateralism.
Responding to the issue, Shigeo Iwatani, Secretary-General, Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat in Seoul, called for the adoption of a unified set of norms and legal institutions.
“My feeling is that it is about time to establish a certain solid, legally based institutional framework to talk about all these political and military issues,” he said.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngyuen Dan Dung on Thursday told political and business leaders present at the WEF that China’s provocative actions at sea could derail economic growth in the region.
More than three-fourths of global goods are shipped via maritime transportation, of which two-thirds travel via East Sea, and a risk of conflict will disrupt these huge flows of goods and have a foreseeable impact on regional and world economies, he said.
Dung specifically cited the presence of a giant oil rig, which he said China placed deep into Vietnam’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. Vietnam has always exercised “utmost restraint” but China has ignored all attempts to discuss the issue, he said.
The Philippines has also been engaged in territorial disputes with China over areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has distanced himself from growing territorial conflicts in Asia, telling a Japanese newspaper that they should not jeopardize the “strategic importance” of his country’s ties with Beijing.
“We do not want [the territorial]issue to be an impediment to the growing ties between Malaysia and China,” he told Nikkei on Thursday during a visit to Japan.
But threats to peace in the region have not only centered on conflicts over sovereignty claims but also internal political struggles that have shaken countries such as Thailand.
After Martial Law was declared in Thailand on Tuesday, the leaders of the Red Shirts, who coalesced in 2008 to fight Thaksin Shinawatra’s opponents, were arrested yesterday when six months of instability came to a head with the televised announcement by army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha that he was suspending the constitution, in the 12th coup in eight decades, Bloomberg reported.
Bloomberg said, quoting exchange data, that overseas investors have pulled $408 million from Thai stocks since martial law was declared early on May 20, helping send the benchmark SET Index in Bangkok down 0.7 percent this month. The baht, the worst-performing currency in Asia in May, was 0.1 percent stronger today at 32.563 per dollar as of 7:19 a.m. in Bangkok following a 0.4 percent decline yesterday.
Del Rosario pointed out the need for the Asean to form strategic partnerships with other markets in the world.
“If we have one [partnership]with mainland China, we should have one with India as well, we should have another with the United States, and we should also have that with Japan. Because in that case, then we will be able to form, more or less, a network of alliances and we will not be [pitted]against one another,” she said.
Citizens of the countries in the bloc must also get involved in the integration, Del Rosario said.
“In moving forward, as things get more complicated, people should be more involved. We should create a more stabilized force,” she added.