Parallel Session Speech: Asia’s Dynamic Developments and their Implications for Inter-Regional Cooperation

November 27, 2013 7:34 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Speech by M. C. Abad, Jr., Chairman of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (Philippines), on the occasion of the CALD-ALDE Meeting session, Asia’s Political Security Environment: Avenues for Inter-Regional Cooperation, held on 09 November 2013 at the Manila Hotel, Philippines.

First of all, please allow me to congratulate the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

I would like to thank Honorable Sam Rainsy, Chairman of CALD, for inviting our Institute to this happy and important gathering.

My presentation will cover what I refer to as dynamic developments in Asia, particularly East Asia, political and security challenges in the region, the state of inter-regional cooperation, and its prospects for the future.

Dynamic developments in Asia

Few days from now, an EU-Myanmar Task Force will be launched in Yangon. This event will bring together high-level representatives of both public and private sectors from both sides to support the on-going political and economic transition processes in that country.

Indeed, very few, if any, of us anticipated the kind of fast pace transition which began two years ago when the new brand of Myanmar leadership came into power.

This year alone, we witnessed the landmark visit of Myanmar President U Thein Sein to EU and the subsequent decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to lift all sanctions, except arms, “in response to the changes that have taken place and in the expectation that they will continue.”

Armed conflicts continue in some parts of Myanmar and human rights violations continue to be reported. But unlike in the past, Myanmar has established a more credible government that the international community could now engage and partner with. The democratic opposition now participates in nation-building.

The political normalization in Myanmar has also removed an irritant in the inter-regional relationship between EU and ASEAN, which was stalled for several years when ASEAN decided to admit Myanmar in 1997.

Not that the irritant is not important. On the contrary, for many of us, the subject of that irritation is just the right kind of fundamental issues that we should never shy away from discussing – and resolving peacefully.  Nevertheless, there is time for everything and now seems to be a time to re-engage and re-build.

Economic developments and challenges

Asia Pacific region’s economic rise has been accompanied by its increasing participation in globalization, on one hand, and regional integration on the other.

As of last year, the region (including Japan) generated 36 percent of global GDP. However, this is mostly concentrated in few countries. Together, China, India, and Japan accounted for 70 percent of the region’s output. (ADB Key Indicators of 48 Regional Members, 2013).

Intra-regional trade within Asia and the Pacific today constitutes over 55 percent of its total trade from 41 percent in 1990.

As evidence of our dependence on the global market, merchandise trade (exports and imports) was equivalent to more than 100 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 12 regional economies. The average trade-to-GDP ratio for 35 developing countries in Asia was 67 percent in 2012.

While Asian combined exports to Europe and North America have fallen from 48 to 31 percent of the total in the last two decades, it is still very substantial. Asia has a major stake in the economic well-being of our traditional trading partners, which are also major sources of investment capital and technology.

The EU, in particular, remains ASEAN’s third largest trading partner and continues to be ASEAN’s biggest source of Foreign Direct Investment, with a share of 16 percent. In tourism, the number of visitor arrivals from the EU to ASEAN in 2011 was 7.33 million, an increase from 6.97 million in 2010.

Our strong economic linkages and interdependence with the rest of the world is a source of our economic dynamism. But it is also a source of concern and insecurity.

It is concerned about the impact of economic challenges being faced by its major partners, namely, North America and Europe. It is concerned about uncertainties in global financial conditions.  It is concerned about not being able to achieve the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals. It is also concerned about the persistence of non-traditional security issues that threaten human security. Therefore, our dialogue, among other priorities, should contribute to the forging of post-MDG development agenda.

Political and security challenges

Within Southeast Asia, peaceful relations prevail. Nevertheless, just like in many other parts of the world, some of our territorial disputes remain unresolved. Nevertheless, these are being managed within bounds.

In the broader East Asia, there are at least two strategic issues that should remain on the international agenda: the situation in the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea or what we call in the Philippines as the West Philippines Sea. These are major and complex issues that are not likely to have resolution soon. These are potentially dangerous issues that could threaten peace and stability not just in East Asia, but also in the broader Asia Pacific region and even beyond.

The Korean Peninsula involves several and complex issues, namely nuclear proliferation, militarization, authoritarianism, presence of foreign troops, post-war peace agreement, cases of abduction, economic and social issues, and the role of Major Powers as allies.

The Asean Regional Forum (ARF), where all parties involved in the Korean Peninsula situation are members, has maintained that DPRK should comply fully with its obligations to all relevant UNSC Resolutions and to its commitments under the Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks of 2005. These include DPRK’s commitment to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to IAEA safeguards regime. At the same time, other parties have expressed their respect for DPRK’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to cooperate along this line.

On the other hand, the West Philippines Sea involves several issues as well, namely overlapping territorial claims of six neighbors, maritime jurisdiction, freedom of navigation, maritime trade, military disequilibrium, creeping occupation, piracy, and protection of marine environment.

The ARF Ministers have taken cognizant of the ASEAN Statement on the Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea, including full respect for universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Many countries have also expressed support for the conclusion of a legally binding code of conduct among the claimant states, pending the resolution of overlapping claims.

Non-traditional security issues

Aside from these two major challenges, there are other non-traditional security issues that deserve our attention, although these may not necessarily pose wide-scale armed and violent threats. But they matter most to our people because of their immediate and direct impact to their lives, namely natural disasters, climate change, terrorism, trafficking of illicit drugs, people smuggling, trafficking in persons, cyber security, and piracy.

Needed cooperative activities point to more effective law enforcement, information and experience sharing, early warning, setting up lines of communication, joint exercises and simulation of possible scenarios and responses, actual rapid response capability, and most importantly, building capacity and resilience in a preventive manner.

Both the EU Foreign Affairs Council and the ASEAN Regional Forum have taken cognizance of the possible international security implications of climate change as a threat multiplier. These include, for instance, sea level rise and its consequences in ascertaining maritime borders, trans-boundary impacts of climate change on agriculture productivity, food and water resources, and its effect on migration and state and regional instability. A seminar was recently held in Brussels on this subject jointly organized by EU and the Philippines.

EU in Asia

The European Union is not just a participant in many of our inter-regional institutions. In some cases, it is an initiator and main supporter of some of these processes.

In a recent speech, Germany State Secretary Emily Haber said that, “While many of the biggest strategic global trends were occurring in Asia, Europe remained a key player and of closer geopolitical proximity to Asia than many observers might think.”

For instance, aside from being one of the first dialogue partners of Asean, EU is also a founding member of the 27-member Asean Regional Forum, which is the premier venue for multilateral security dialogue and cooperation in the Asia Pacific.

Myanmar and the European Union (EU) are now co-chairing the ARF inter-sessional group on Confidence Building Measures and Preventive Diplomacy and the adjoining Defence Officials’ Dialogue. Myanmar will host the first meeting in December 2013 and Europe will do its part in 2014.

At the highest level is the 48-member Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which regularly convened every two years for more than one and a half decade now. In addition to the leaders of EU and Asean countries, ASEM now includes Australia, Bulgaria, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Romania, and Russia. The European capitals of London, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Brussels have taken their turns in hosting ASEM. The next summit meeting is scheduled next year in Italy.

EU has also expressed interest in joining the East Asia Summit (EAS) – a leadership forum designed to take up political and strategic issues in the Asia-Pacific. It focuses on a wide array of issues, including energy security, maritime security, and non-proliferation.

But with or without EAS participation for EU, there are now important avenues for inter-governmental dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe.

Active with the civil society is the Asia-Europe Foundation. Its programs cover the areas of mass media, higher education, public health, culture, environment and intellectual exchanges among scholars and experts. ASEF has a permanent office in Singapore funded by voluntary contributions from its partner governments and shares the financing of its projects with its civil society partners across Asia and Europe.

This CALD-ALDE relationship is another important forum for inter-regional dialogue among like-minded political parties and think tanks that should be sustained.

Implications for the future

Global interconnections and interdependence are obvious in many aspects of our existence. Systemic challenges must be dealt with at the international and inter-regional levels. To achieve certain equilibrium or compensate for lack of it in pursuing just solutions to certain issues, international voice, if not intervention, should always be available as an option.

Despite this, I believe that it would serve us well to discern which issues could be best left at the regional, even domestic level. One important principle in preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution is for external actors to always ensure that the consequences of action should not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction.

What are the implications of this dynamic strategic situation in the Asia Pacific for the future of Asia-Europe dialogue?

First, Asia is increasingly becoming an even more important region, particularly in the economic sense. This could only be good for Europe to have more diverse economic partners beyond its traditional trans-Atlantic relations. But even as our economic managers talk about launching negotiations for bilateral FTAs as building blocks for inter-regional FTA, it is important that we manage well our economic interdependence to mitigate the impact of external volatility particularly on the vulnerable sectors of our societies.

Second, it is a relationship that is increasingly becoming more of a partnership. As Asia grows economically, there will be greater expectations for commensurate role in political decision-making on issues affecting both sides, but also on other global issues. Asia will be a more confident region both in pursuing its own interest as well as in partnering with Europe in tackling international agenda.

Third, relations among the Major Powers are important anchors in inter-regional relations. In particular, the quality of relationship among the P5, as far as their interests in the Asia Pacific is concerned, determines and will continue to determine how far we could deepen, widen, and hasten inter-regional cooperation. Beyond the P5, other important countries like Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, and Australia should continue to play constructive role in our region. Inter-regional cooperation could only complement and not replace strategic bilateral relations among nations, especially among allies.

Finally, while it is common for us to talk about the shifting global power as a process of transferring power from one region to another, a deeper understanding of power shift will keep us mindful that it could also mean power transformation – changes in the sources and nature of power itself.

This understanding should make us think about responding not just to the traditional sources of power, such as wealth (which brings benefits) and arms (which brings fear), but also to a region’s soft power. For instance, it could be the power to convene and shape the outlook not just of its own constituencies, but also of its external partners.

Our inter-regional dialogue should make both of our regions more responsive and constructive in employing power in our own backyards, but also in our relations with one another. We must support multilateralism as an instrument of an inclusive and moderating process against either competition or concert among few Major Powers to the detriment of others.

Therefore, the global power shift need not always be a source of insecurity. That is, if we could collectively shepherd this process toward building a more predictable pattern of relations based on shared interest and values. That is, if we could make our convening power more credible, inspiring, and abiding for future generations to build on.

Thank you.

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