ASIAN SUMMITS IN PERSPECTIVE

Two historic events, one course to the future

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YEN MAKABENTA

First word
LET’s get our perspectives straight.

When the Philippines hosts in Angeles City starting November 12, the ASEAN and East Asia summits, Southeast Asia will be marking two important events—one an inspired demarche towards community, the other the economic meltdown of the seemingly unstoppable Asian tiger economies.

To host these meetings is to place the country squarely in the vortex of history and in the quest for a pacific future. By any calculus, this charge is worth every peso that we have committed toward their success. We will get our payback in terms of the credibility and prestige that hosting the summits confers.

Two milestones


By coincidence, in 2017, Southeast Asia will mark two major events in its history. First, the 50th year of the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Bangkok in 1967. And second, the 20th year of the Asian financial crisis, which first struck Thailand on July2, 1997, when the Thai baht, after being floated, fell promptly by 20 percent against the US dollar. The economic typhoon spread like a contagion in the region. It quickly moved through Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, and then hammered South Korea as its final victim.

Was it by accident or design that Thailand midwifed these contrasting events in regional history?

Following the outbreak of the Asian crisis, it would take the next four years, up to the start of the 21st century, for East and Southeast Asia to recover their economic bearings. Once they did, the tiger economies in no time recovered their economic dynamism, some enjoying growth rates equal to or exceeding those of 1996.

Today, the region is not racing away into the future. It looks more likely that the Asean economies will enjoy brisk and steady growth. Significantly. the Philippines is now one of the economic pacesetters of the region, rivaling China with its consistently high growth rate.

Summits of great strategic importance

The two summits in Angeles City bear upon this movement toward the future. They have great strategic importance not only for Asia, but for the whole world. Asean has emerged as one of the world’s most cohesive and potent regional blocs, perhaps exceeded only by the European Union, which it dwarfs in area and population.
The Asia-Pacific region, which also includes parts of Asia, America and Oceania, is indisputably the most dynamic region in the world today.

There is now less fevered talk about the 21st century being the “Asian” or “Asia-Pacific century”—an era wherein the focus of world events and the center of world power would radically shift from West to East.

Regardless of the skepticism of some analysts, the shift is already taking place. China has risen to the center stage of world affairs and to the top among the world’s economies. Other Asian countries, including Japan, is showing fresh vitality and growth.

On the security thermometer, North Korea is in everyone’s consciousness today. China is revving up for a big push to build a more formidable and modern military; all Asians are taking notice. Everyone is also cautiously watching what Japan will do in the security game, with Abe given a fresh mandate. The discussions in Angeles will not fail to address these questions and the pressure of change.

Donald Trump in Asia

A major narrative that will be followed keenly when the summits unfold is how US President Donald Trump will comport himself. He will be attending the Asean summits for the first time. He is making his first visit to Asia as US president. He will likewise attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Vietnam during his trip.

During his Asian tour, Trump will visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. It will be the longest Asian tour by an American president in more than 25 years.

One of his goals during the tour is to increase international support for an effort to deprive North Korea of resources as leverage to coerce it to give up nuclear weapons.

Trump will be in the Philippines on November 12-13. The East Asia Summit is slated on the 14th. Because of a scheduling problem, Trump will skip the EAS. He will be represented instead by a surrogate, most likely US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump will hold a bilateral meeting with Duterte on the sidelines of the Asean commemorative summit.
On each stop of his five-nation tour, Trump will hold top-level meetings with an important Asian chief executive.

The agenda for each meeting is full. None will be more closely watched than his meeting with China’s president Xi Jinping, who emerged from the historic nineteenth congress of the Communist Party of China vested with new powers of command and control. Xi will lead a new seven-man leadership, composed of the biggest names in China today.

This presents a contrasting sureness of leadership by Xi when compared to Trump‘s cantankerous relationship with the US Congress, and his shaky leadership of the US Republican Party.

East Asia summit

The East Asia Summit is composed of the 10 Asean countries, and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the US. The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a forum held annually by the leaders of these countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.

EAS meetings are held at the conclusion of the annual Asean leaders’ meetings. The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 14, 2005.After a period of review, the summit grew from 16 to 18 nations when the US and Russia were formally invited to join the sixth EAS in 2011. The two countries had been initially represented by their foreign ministers.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be coming to the Philippines with his own time of troubles as Russian leader. He is heavily criticized and under challenge by an increasingly militant opposition at home, that can stage rowdy demonstrations.

Low expectations

All in all, expectations internationally for the East Asia summit are rather low.

Trump ‘s reputation as a dealmaker may have no weight against Xi’s consolidation of power in China. US analysts are not convinced that Trump can persuade Xi to take new measures to rein in Pyongyang. They do not expect any strategic win over Kim Jong-un.

Trump, say some analysts, is resigned to batting instead for bilateral trade agreements during his Asian tour. His senior advisers have told reporters that “there are greater prospects through bilateral engagement” than through multilateral deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership of Barack Obama.

With respect to North Korea, the recent decision of Rodrigo Duterte and Shinzo Abe to work together for talks with North Korea sound more hopeful at this time.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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