A NATION and its people can and do take a lot from the vagaries of mere existence such as a bomb explosion in Quiapo, Manila, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Sarangani, the discovery of a secret jail cell in Manila Police Station 1 and the 30th Asean Summit, all happening within a 24-hour life cycle.
If indeed the fate of a nation lies in the hands of a few men—good or bad—the future generations of Filipinos are at risk. Who can say if tomorrow the Philippines won’t be overwhelmed and annexed by China as an offshoot of its brazen exploits of land reclamation and military buildup in the South China Sea?
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had China in mind when they released their final declaration after the Asean Summit on Saturday. They expressed concern about Beijing’s construction of islands in the South China Sea, and reaffirmed the importance of peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation in disputed waters.
They also “took note of the serious concerns expressed by some Leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area, which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region.”
The Asean leaders called for the peaceful resolution of disputes and “full respect for the supremacy of law, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law.”
“We reaffirmed the need to strengthen cooperation and constructive dialogue on maritime security, maritime safety, maritime environment, and other maritime issues… We look forward to strengthening Asean cooperation to deal with these threats and discuss with our Dialogue Partners cooperative frameworks and measures as soon as practicable,” they declared.
The Leaders’ statement, the agreements signed by members of the group and whatever action the bloc will take in relation to maritime disputes or other matters of interest will affect more than 625 million Asean citizens, including 104 million or so Filipinos.
Does it really matter to the people of Southeast Asia if China will continue to build structures and islands in the South China Sea?
Of course it does. Thus it is important for Asean members to strengthen the ties that bind them in the face of a strong China lobby.
With the Philippine chairmanship of Asean running all year long, there is still time for Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to regroup and muster a counterbalancing stand on hegemony, until the Asean Leaders Summit convenes in November. That is, if Asean wants to be known and remembered as a cohesive and powerful model of regionalism that puts the interest of its individual members first.
The 30th Asean Summit in Manila may have been shaken by a big quake in Mindanao, an explosion just five kilometers away from the summit venue and news of a secret inhuman jail cell, but the leaders of the 10 nations were unshaken in their resolve to put the region in better shape for future generations, pushing onward to address all risks and threats to peace, unity, stability and prosperity to all.