NORTH Korean strongman Kim Jong-un’s threat to sink Guam and cripple Japan with its rogue nuclear weapons has dominated US President Donald Trump’s conversations with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, South Korean President Moon Jae-in as well as members of the National Assembly in Seoul, and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, on his current 12-day Asian swing. It is expected to top the agenda of the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Danang, Vietnam on November 11-12 and the Asean-East Asia Summit in Angeles City on November 13-14.
Both of these Trump will be attending with President Rodrigo Duterte and several other world leaders. The escalation of Trump’s rhetoric against Kim, and the world’s desire to find a diplomatic solution to the problem, which the US president himself seems inclined to support, firmly guarantee that the world would be hearing and talking a lot more about Pyongyang in the days ahead.
With all of Kim’s friends pitching in, there’s hope that diplomacy would prevail.
But the Asia-Pacific—now fashionably being rebranded as the Indo-Pacific region to bring India into the equation—has a few more critical problems, and it would be a mistake for the world leaders not to consider them during these two big meetings.
The China Sea conundrum
The East and South China Sea situation, which puts China in maritime territorial conflict with Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, deserves to be looked into with some urgency, not necessarily in terms of how the conflicting parties could be made to agree to a peaceful solution to their disputes, but in terms of how they could all work together to preserve the peace despite their unresolved differences. Until now, China has exercised its natural advantage of size, wealth and power to improve its physical position vis-a-vis the other claimant states, notably the Philippines.
Since 2013, China is said to have dredged and reclaimed more than 2,900 acres of land in the South China Sea, and constructed artificial islands on which it has built airstrips, runways, helipads, support buildings, piers, radar and surveillance structures, which could be used either for civilian or for military purposes. It stands poised to exert a critical influence on the vast waterway said to contain 11 billion barrels of oil, 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and through which passes $5.3 trillion of global trade every year.
XIn the East China Sea, China is locked in its historic maritime dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. China’s military spending, reported to have increased by 167 percent from 2005 to 2014, has made it not only a formidable economic power, second only to the United States, but also an increasingly potent military power.
China’s close relationship with Pyongyang, which has seen them as close allies during and since the end of the Korean war, makes it a major player in finding a diplomatic solution to the North Korean problem. As the biggest single player in the East and South China Sea maritime disputes, it holds the key to breaking the impasse on the overall Asia Pacific maritime conundrum.
Without disrespecting its claim to assert what it believes to be its sovereign claim, is China in a position to assure the world that it has no interest in holding hostage, for whatever geopolitical reason, the freedom of international navigation in the disputed mineral-rich waters? Would it be prepared to work for the complete demilitarization of the disputed areas, pending a peaceful international settlement acceptable to all interested parties?
We cannot reasonably expect either forum to provide detailed recommendations, but it could be a major breakthrough if one or the other could propose a framework containing general principles by which the disputants could move forward to a possible solution. Considering the stakes involved, no idea should be dismissed offhand as either utopian or wishful. We should fail only after trying everything.
Genocide in Myanmar
Another issue the APEC and East Asian summiteers cannot afford to ignore is the outrageous violation of human rights of certain minorities in the region. This includes the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Myanmar, even more than the extrajudicial drug killings in the Philippines. In the last six weeks or so, some 600,000 Rohingya Muslims were reported to have been driven out of Myanmar into Bangladesh by security forces. Hundreds of villages have been burnt, men beheaded, women raped, children simply wasted, creating a humanitarian crisis that has failed to win adequate attention from the United Nations and from the rest of the world.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has condemned the slaughter, as have members of the European Union. But there has been no formal condemnation from the UN Security Council, and Asean itself has been slow to take a unanimous position. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize icon and State Counselor, who heads the ruling National League for Democracy, has been criticized for having failed to respond quickly to the situation.
The Rohingya Muslims have been portrayed by their enemies as agents of a global Islamist conspiracy to take over the world and install a global caliphate. But from one end of the religious spectrum, they have been demonized by extremist Buddhists as reincarnated creatures from snakes and insects, who have no right to human life, and could be exterminated in the name of “pest control.” But this falls under the definition of genocide, under the 1948 UN Convention Against Genocide.
This convention defines genocide as “any act with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such; killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group, forcibly transfering children of the group to another group.”
The world leaders in Danang and Angeles have an opportunity to make a defining call.
With PDU30 hosting the summit in Angeles, there will be ample opportunity to raise questions about the human rights situation in the Philippines. He will be on his best behavior and will have no chance to call anyone a “son of a whore” for asking questions about the extrajudicial killings.
But the situation has since evolved. DU30 has already ordered an end to the police operations that have resulted in thousands killed since July 2016; he has now put the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in charge of his anti-drug war. This minimizes the danger of continued killings.
Beyond the EJK
But the danger may have assumed much larger proportions. In an apparent effort to evade an impending International Criminal Court inquiry into the past killings, rabid but ill-informed political supporters are trying to encourage DU30 to declare a revolutionary government after the summit is over. This cannot possibly help him much, if the ICC decides to investigate, but it could present a clear and present danger to the future of democracy in the country and the region.
This is something Japan’s Abe, according to Cabinet sources who had accompanied DU30 on his last visit to Tokyo, gently reminded his guest about, before increasing Japan’s one-trillion-yen Official Development Assistance to his government to 2.5 trillion yen. (In my previous column, I suggested that Abe merely used body language rather than words to convey the message that Japan’s ODA is in support of a constitutional democratic government, rather than an unconstitutional one. I have since been assured by sources close to DU30 that Abe asked that Philippine constitutional democracry be maintained, although in very soft tones.)
Now, a general statement calling on all summit participants in Angeles to exert their utmost efforts to maintain and enhance the status of constitutional democracy in their respective jurisdictions would go a long way in convincing DU30 to abandon all plans to declare a revolutionary government. It could work wonders if such a statement were coursed through DU30 himself, as summit host and chair.