Non-interference in Asean impossible, experts say

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THE call of President Rodrigo Duterte to uphold the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (Asean) policy against “external interference” is impossible, experts said on Monday.

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Duterte on Sunday insisted on the importance of keeping the regional bloc’s independence by ensuring stability and security from any manifestation of external interference.

“I call on Asean Dialogue Partners to renew their dedication to the valued purposes and principles stated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, including non-interference, in promoting regional peace and stability through abiding respect for the rule of law,” Duterte said during the launch of the Philippine hosting of the Asean 2017 meetings in Davao City.

Former national security adviser Roilo Golez said the Philippines won’t be able to prevent big powers from meddling in Asean affairs because Asean itself had invited them to join its summit meetings.

Some forums where non-Asean countries can join the 10 member-states are the Asean Regional Forum, Asean Plus Thee, Asean Plus Six and the East Asia Summit.

Golez said the big powers would try to push their agenda and “there will always be power plays.”

“Big powers will be participating in all of these fora. It’s the decision of the Asean to invite them,” he said during the “Tapatan sa Aristocrat” forum in Manila. “You invite them and them tell them, don’t interfere?” he said in
Filipino.

Antonio Santos, former Defense undersecretary, said Asean countries are disunited and mindful of their own national interests, making the bloc vulnerable to inference from outside forces.

“Asean does not have its own voice,” Santos said.

For instance, some countries that have benefited from Chinese aid often favored Beijing’s interests especially in the crafting of joint statements, he said.

“Asean as an institution is still young. It takes time to change views, align views and all the things,” he added.

While top officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have explicitly stated that the July 2016 international tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute won’t be discussed in Asean meetings, Golez said the issue could still be tackled when other countries raise the matter.

Apart from the Philippines, other Asean members who have overlapping claims to the disputed waters are Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

“But what if another country would propose that it will be discussed? Will the host prevent them? That will be awkward,” Golez said.

Activist groups on Monday morning trooped to the DFA office in Pasay City to raise issues they want tackled in Asean meetings.

Asean Civil Society Conference and Asean Peoples’ Forum co-convener Ed Tadem said the Office of Asean Affairs had a one-hour dialogue with his group and accepted their proposals for consideration.

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