August 7, 2012
ASEAN is Regionalism, not Nationalism
by Kevin H.R. Villanueva
One remarkable thing that has come out into the open in the recent ASEAN diplomatic fracas, is one hard truth for this regional bloc which earnestly seeks to strike common ground: The 10 countries zealously guard against any encroachment on their national sovereignty and the interests of the state. But another truth, perhaps a more painful one to confess, is that the finger-pointing is a very un-ASEAN thing to do. And the clear indication of general remorse is that some member states, for example Indonesia, have thankfully taken it upon themselves to mend the frayed ties.
The Foreign Ministers are at the heart of ASEAN. The fact that the Foreign Ministers at the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Phnom Penh this July were at odds regarding how to give an account of a contentious issue let alone resolve it, such as the overlapping territorial boundaries within the South China–West Philippine Sea, is profound cause for concern.
It was the first time in ASEAN history that no joint communiqué was issued. The Foreign Ministers have, as a consequence, courted the unnecessary glare of bad publicity, left the Heads-of-State with more than a morsel to chew while they prepare for the ASEAN Summit in November 2012, and left their ranks, and everyone in it, wide open to the adverse scrutiny of the international community — another un-ASEAN practice in the conduct of international affairs.
ASEAN is at a crucial stage in its dream to build a community by 2015. It would do us well to keep two things in mind: The forefathers saw ASEAN as a regional security arrangement based on the value of berkampung, meaning to get together, from which kampung, the Malay word for village, comes from.
This indigenous notion of “togetherness”, which has an equivalent in many parts of Southeast Asia, such as bayanihan or dagyaw in the Philippines, is an informal way of achieving a shared community objective.
This is how Tun Ghazali Shafie, the former Malaysian Minister, and General. Ali Moertopo of Indonesia, dreamed ASEAN to be whilst they darted to and fro, meeting in the ASEAN capitals in the mid-1960s.
It is in this context that the broader strategic aims of regional economic, political and socio-cultural development would have to be sustained. These, reasoned Shafie, were the “ingredients of peace”.
Second, it was believed that the cost of losing the region’s grip on its political and diplomatic force was too high a price to pay for economic gain. This is why, Shafie further contended early on, the purpose of ASEAN, apart from securing economic advantage, was not “to puff diplomatic pimples in public to make them look like big boils” (October 22, 1992, Far Eastern Economic Review). This is how, even to this day, ASEAN officials continue to “blunt” intramural conflicts and build the confidence of the community. How do we apply these principles given the present controversy?
The shuttle diplomacy of Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian Foreign Minister has been swift, straightforward and wise.It has won the approbation of Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and their peers in ASEAN. I believe that the strategy employed was to pick up on the “key elements” of the proposed code of conduct on the South China Sea that ASEAN had already agreed on, or consolidate the bilateral consultations that the Philippines had been undertaking since 2011 with its ASEAN partners for a proposed framework in the resolution of these competing claims.
If I am right, then this confirms a very ASEAN thing to do, and hence a principle to harness in the coming months: look for the lowest common denominators, because this is what works for “us” as a community and then build on them, slowly and steadily.
The next step is to build trust instead of sowing fear. If the ASEAN member states have now agreed on a six-point principle on the implementation of the 2002 Declaration of the Code of Conduct (DOC) in the South China Sea in order make good on its commitment to draft the Regional Code of Conduct, then the battles will have been half won in time for the 2012 ASEAN Summit.
All claimants should busy themselves in delivering their political commitments in the DOC to undertake “cooperative activities”, including: marine environmental protection and scientific research; safety of navigation and communication at sea; search and rescue operations, and combating international crime, including but not limited to: trafficking in illicit drugs; piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal trafficking in arms.
Finally, before looking far and wide for solutions to a regional problem, the Philippines ought first to look to its neighbours, especially those who are directly concerned with the territorial and jurisdictional dispute in question.
America will make a good ally and it is good to listen to what it has to say, but keeping them out will keep everyone’s feet on the ground. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs should then continue its purported “three-track” approach — political, diplomatic and legal — initially with countries which are willing to come to the bargaining table.
This is not to defy China, but to invite all and keep the doors open to all who value and share respect for the universally recognised principles of international law.
In November, Cambodia will have the noble opportunity of keeping the calm over the waterways that link ASEAN with China and the world. It is another shot at leadership. Whether it wants to lead ASEAN or China or ASEAN and China is a question that Cambodia must seriously confront. — The Jakarta Post- The Malaysian Insider.
* Kevin H.R. Villanueva is special adviser for ASEAN Affairs at the Ateneo de Manila University Office for University and Global Relations (Philippines) and university research scholar at the University of Leeds (UK).