Global power struggle packs Asean agenda

your say August 18, 2017 01:00

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An Asean ministers meeting was held in the Philippines from August 5-8. The 27 nations deploying their foreign ministers for three days of summitry and handshake photo-ops starting on Saturday include the main protagonists in long-tormenting conflicts led by the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South and North Korea.

The Philippines played host as this year’s chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. 

It’s an unwieldy 10-nation collective of democracies, monarchies and authoritarian regimes founded half a century ago in the Cold-War era, which prides itself for being a bulwark of diplomacy in a region scarred by a history of wars and interminable conflicts.

It is a good thing that a look at the main issues is expected to dominate the forum. 

China and Asean will endorse a two-page framework of a long-sought code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea. 

The challenge here is the actual implementation of this, since we know that the agreed outline of key principles is lopsidedly in China’s favour. 

We suspect that China may have consented to it to divert protests as it tries to complete land reclamation and fortify its man-made islands with a missile defence system.

Meanwhile, it is wrong that the maritime dispute flared up as a result of American expansionism into Asia, with the US aiming to contain and choke China. It might be an element that China’s Dream is one good reason to ponder on. But in connection with US moves militarily, China invaded rocks and shoals to build defensive islands in the South China Sea in order to fend off US plans to blockade China’s access to the Malacca Straits.

Further, ISIS terrorists disguised as “moderate rebels” in Syria were originally cultivated by the US to topple the government of Assad. Over time, these so-called “moderate rebels” were equipped, empowered and emboldened by their handlers (funders and influencers) to destroy and kill and murder, if only to topple Assad. 

Today, ISIS is a monster that has come to the shores of Southeast Asia. While the US might be one reason why ISIS and other terrorist groups are too agitated and have the urge to be on top over Western powers like US, we also must consider that security-threat groups are also independent when it comes to their own interests. Because, even without US, their actions speak for their interest in surviving as macro players, by any means.

I believe Asean is taking steps to realise the security threats impending in our regional bloc. There is alarm over North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests and a germinal step to temper South China Sea disputes. 

There is unease that a disastrous siege by pro-Islamic State group militants will grab the spotlight in an annual gathering of Southeast Asia’s top diplomats with their Asian and Western counterparts.

I hope the draft of a joint communique to be issued by the Asean ministers welcomes the conclusion of talks on the framework regarding regional concerns over land reclamation and militarist moves in the South China Sea, which Asean members had agreed to include in their previous statements. I support whatever will be the result of the discussions.

Jumel Gabilan Estranero