January 1, 2018
December 31, 2017
Number 408 | December 27, 2017
The ‘United States Factor’ in Southeast Asia: The Philippine and Singaporean (Re)assesments
By Ithrana Lawrence
Despite reports on the unpredictability of Washington’s Asia policy, the Trump Administration, through telephone diplomacy, high-level bilateral visits, attendance at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), East Asian Summit (EAS) and bilateral meetings in Vietnam and the Philippines, has displayed a “post-pivot” US commitment to the region and its multilateral initiatives. This aside, its engagement framed by collective action on North Korea, and a lack of specific concrete regional cooperatives, plays into Southeast Asia’s long-term anxiety.
This anxiety is addressed by Southeast Asian leaders recalibrating their external engagements, including relations with the United States, in their strategic pursuit of policy maneuverability, autonomy, and prosperity. The cases of the Philippines and Singapore highlight how regional countries are coping with “The United States Factor”.
The Philippines’ Realignment under President Rodrigo Duterte
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ perception of the US role in the region has changed. Although recognized as a major non-NATO US ally since 2003, the Philippines increasingly views China as an important and economically attractive source of support, and Manila has shown an increasing willingness to accommodate Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS). Despite a 66 year-old alliance, the Philippines is diverging from the United States on issues of security and governance.
Duterte’s announced “separation” from the United States and refusal to visit Washington despite Trump’s invitation are efforts to chart an independent foreign policy. Distance from the U.S. is a price President Duterte seems eager to pay. Although the Obama-Aquino administrations’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) allowing US military forces and weapons to be stationed in the Philippines was ruled constitutional and has not been abrogated, Manila is wary of implementation. For example, the Philippine Defense Secretary remarked it was “unlikely” that the United States would be allowed to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) from the Philippines “to avoid any provocative actions that can escalate tensions” as the “US can fly over there coming from other bases.” Similarly, Duterte downplayed US assistance in Marawi despite the US Embassy in Manila reporting a donation of planes, weapons, technical assistance, and humanitarian aid worth $56 million in 2017 – recognizing instead the contributions of China and Russia on the same day Secretary of Defense Mattis arrived in Manila.
Doubts about US commitment of the United States to defend the Philippines in the event of a conflict with China in the South China Sea have driven President Duterte to chart an engagement strategy avoiding over-reliance on Washington. China’s symbolic $14.4 million arms package was delivered as the US Congress disapproved a sale of assault rifles for the Philippine National Police (PNP) due to concerns of state sanctioned human rights violations in the ‘war on drugs’. The Philippines has leveraged competition in the region, securing Beijing’s pledge of $24 billion in infrastructure (including free infrastructure) projects in Davao and Manila, and $22.7 million in Marawi; alongside Tokyo’s $8.8 billion “maximum support” to rebuild Marawi.
Duterte’s Philippines has shown selective accommodation to China’s assertiveness as it recognizes the opportunities of engaging a rising China. Recent examples include the removal of a hut on a sandbar upon Beijing’s protest, not openly protesting territorial incursions, and allowing Chinese ships to survey within Philippine territory. That being said, the Philippines remains committed to its territorial sovereignty, with the Philippine Navy deployed to guard current claims.
The Trump administration’s generally absent rhetoric on human rights, and praise for the war on drugs has improved bilateral leadership camaraderie. All anti-US outbursts over the year aside, President Duterte’s ‘karaoke diplomacy’ at the ASEAN Summit gala dinner signals an affinity for the commander in chief of the United States.
Singapore’s Longstanding Alignment
Despite China’s growing economic significance, political assertiveness, and security provocations in the SCS, Singapore’s alignment responses have been different than those of the Philippines. Singapore is partnering closer with Washington than with Beijing on most issues, and the United States is still viewed as an indispensable partner, significant to the development and security of the island state. While Singapore boasts a high degree of military technology, interoperability, and physical infrastructure to host the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s logistics command, its refusal to be recognized as a major non-NATO US ally reflects the island-state’s maintenance of a public non-aligned strategic engagement.
Although China is the island-state’s top trading partner, the United States remains its largest foreign investor with stock totaling $228 billion and an annual bilateral trade surplus. Singapore’s open support of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s July 2016 ruling and non-claimant concern over freedom of navigation in its regional waters faced high-cost pressure from Beijing: seizure of military equipment in Hong Kong en-route from exercises in Taiwan, cancellation of the 2016 high level Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) and apparent non-invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Although showing resolve to face China’s growing pressure, a subsequent delegation of high-level officials to Beijing followed by Prime Minister Lee’s own visit is symbolic of Beijing’s growing significance as a partner not to be openly defied. Singapore looks to harness China’s economic engagement with the region specifically as a global financial services hub for the Belt and Road Initiative and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Singapore remains a strong advocate for US engagement in the region, with a pledge to facilitate initiatives for regional counter-terrorism efforts upon assuming ASEAN Chairmanship in 2018. Bilaterally, Prime Minister Lee’s pledge to extend to 2018 his country’s support for the anti-IS coalition in the Middle East (the only Asian country to contribute personnel) and deployment of helicopters to hurricane relief efforts in Texas are symbolic of Singapore’s activism and the leadership’s institutionalized affinity for the United States. The progressive deepening of defense cooperatives also witnessed the first bilateral naval exercise taking place off the coast of Guam, following the deployment of the Singapore Air Force (RSAF) there for joint training in April.
The Philippine and Singaporean alignments demonstrate models that can be expanded to other Southeast Asian countries. There are signs countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are reassessing the traditional role of the United States and to a certain extent adjusting their external engagements as the systemic conditions that placed the United States as the key security protector, economic patron, and diplomatic partner at the end of the Cold War are changing. Future research on asymmetrical alignment under uncertainty should examine these states.
About the Author
Ithrana Lawrence, is a former Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. She can be contacted at Ithrana.L@gmail.com
Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.
The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.
APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, East-West Center in Washington
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.
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November 23, 2017
South Korean Perspective on Trump’s Visit to Asia
by Joonhyung Kim@www.asiasentinel.com
“America First” is fundamentally different from pursuing national interests. In essence, it is tough diplomacy that has no regard for means and methods in pursuit of interests, changing anything that is disadvantageous to the US, regardless whether the opponent is an ally or a foe.—Joonhyung Kim
It is now time to cool down and check the balance sheet of US President Trump’s Asia trip calmly. The whole world was awaiting the tour, a year after he was elected.
In addition, there were considerable implications in the destinations he visited. The Korean Peninsula is on the brink of war due to the North Korean nuclear crisis. Japan is getting even closer to the US following its eight-year honeymoon with President Barack Obama and China is starting to show its teeth in a hegemonic confrontation with Washington.
There was the possibility of an unforeseeable eventuality during Trump’s visit, considering that Trump has used the crisis on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia with the mindset of a businessman under his “America First” policy.
Despite this, it seems that most observers consider the visits as being better than feared. During his trip to South Korea, he made little to no aggressive remarks that might have heightened the crisis, and differences between South Korea and the US did not stand out. Trump’s trademark provocative tweets were also generally absent.
Not much could be new
In fact, as this summit was the fourth meeting between the Presidents of the US and South Korea, and the third bilateral meeting in just six months since the Moon administration was inaugurated, nothing much could be new. Public confirmation of the solidarity of the alliance and cooperation against North Korea has always accompanied these meetings.
Items of interest included whether trade issues such as a renegotiation of the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), increasing South Korean contribution to US forces stationed on their soil, or confirming early deployment of THAAD would be discussed, as well as how much Trump would seek to pressure Moon. The South Korean government seems to have focused on building friendship through hospitality and on controlling possible damage rather than persuading the US or expecting big things. The unexpected visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek and large armament deal were positive factors that South Korea wanted.
The sensitive issues mentioned above and Trump’s address to the South Korean National Assembly, which possibly could have been another UN General Assembly-type speech, inflamed by Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who mentioned that military options on the Korean Peninsula would be a priority, worried the South Korean government. This is especially so because South Korea and China jointly announced that additional THAAD deployments, South Korea’s participation in joint Missile Defense with the US, and a military alliance between South Korea, Japan, and the US would not be an option just a week before Trump visited South Korea.
Despite these concerns, many inside and outside South Korea believe that Trump’s visit was quite successful. The most important factor is that Trump didn’t resort to his typical blunt remarks or unpredictable actions. He didn’t say or do anything that would hurt the pride of South Koreans, didn’t heighten the threat of war by saying he would destroy North Korea as he did in his address to the UN, and maintained a cautious and toned-down appearance. One can agree that Trump showed a different side of himself.
However, it is difficult to agree with the assessment that Trump’s visit was one where South Korea paid what it had to pay and earned what it could. It was, instead, one where the US got what it wanted from South Korea. It was unidirectional. Trump behaved as though it was a prerogative of the United States as Korea’s guardian when he visited the large-scale high-tech US military base, even with South Korea picking up 92 percent of the bill.
He didn’t, however, forget to criticize the KORUS FTA in the joint press conference with Moon after the summit. As he was celebrating the first anniversary of his presidential election, Trump was busy bragging about the fruits of his “America First” policy to his domestic audience. His emphasis was on the fact that he sold weapons and that this would help decrease the trade deficit and create new jobs.
Moon, on the contrary, was unable to secure any benefits or emphasize negotiation with North Korea or promote the Korean Peninsula Peace Initiative.
Trump focuses on the alliance’s cost
Although one can agree that the strength of the South Korea-US alliance was confirmed, it seems that we are blind to the cold reality that the cost of maintaining this alliance is increasing sharply. Trump repeatedly referred to South Korea as a great ally and a perpetual ally, more than a simple alliance partner. However, he was more into taking benefits in response to the nuclear crisis. The principle that reciprocity and national interests come first could not be found, even if we consider that the South Korea-US alliance is asymmetric.
Trump maximized the reality of the alliance’s unilateral cost rise. He pursues only business interests and does not voice values such as democracy, peace, or democratic leadership, as previous US presidents did. While not hypocritical, the bare face of the “America First” policy shows no solicitude or room for others.
“America First” is fundamentally different from pursuing national interests. In essence, it is tough diplomacy that has no regard for means and methods in pursuit of interests, changing anything that is disadvantageous to the US, regardless whether the opponent is an ally or a foe.
The Korean Peninsula, along with the Balkans, is often said to be cursed by its geography. It is, indeed, an asset to have the US as an ally present on this peninsula. Not only North Korean nuclear threats, but also China’s rise makes the US presence more important. However, the unilateral rise in alliance costs is not an issue that South Koreans can afford to overlook.
Despite these facts, why would many evaluate Trump’s visit as a success? First, it is the learning effect of the Trump style. Trump is a type of US president we have never seen before, and he has been carving out his own territory, constantly breaching taboos and crossing limits. He has so far not thought of becoming the president for all Americans. He has and will continue to rule as if running a campaign for hardcore supporters. He divides sides and picks fights regardless of whether the opponent is domestic or foreign. He attacks African-American football players for kneeling during the national anthem and encourages conflicts rather than addressing white supremacist rallies.
He also clashes with the Republican Party, his own party, and mocks his own Secretary of State whom he himself appointed. He publicly announced that he would destroy North Korea at the UN General Assembly, a hall of peace, and declared Iran to be a murderous regime. Allies are no exception. He criticized NATO members. He called President Moon’s position a policy of appeasement, an ahistorical rudeness. He has also said that the US will not be hurt in a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, despite the fact that there would be thousands of casualties in South Korea were a conflict to occur. Some say this is a high-level “crazy man strategy,” but it is simply gangster leadership, bereft of any class.
It seems that Trump’s South Korea visit was viewed as relatively fine because of the learning effect of these characteristics of the US President. However, this is the error of groupthink, which appears in policy decision theory of international relations. Groupthink refers to a tendency to strengthen conformity or consensus in decision-making groups. The actors participating in the group are pressured to follow the opinion of the group as a whole, while contrary opinions are hard to advocate or are easily ignored. It resembles the tunnel vision phenomenon in which the view is narrowed as one enters a tunnel, or a situation where balanced thought or objective judgment is blurred because one is excessively immersed in one thing.
This error is evident in the assessment that Trump has withdrawn from his hardline stance toward North Korea and has offered the possibility of opening a dialogue. This assessment seems to be based on the fact that Trump, who previously insisted on the uselessness of dialogue, made few intimidating comments about the military option and rather talked about negotiation.
However, this is groundless. The trouble-free expressions of hatred and contempt for North Korea, which accounted for more than two-thirds of his address to the National Assembly, were about how he would never be able to recognize North Korea as a dialogue partner. Such language as hell, cruel dictatorship, torture, rape, and murder were typical of his prejudice against the reality of North Korea.
This far surpasses the rhetoric of President George W. Bush, who called North Korea an outpost of tyranny, a pygmy, and a part of the “axis of evil,” and under whom North Korea-US relations were at their worst level up until now.
The error of groupthink also applies to the recent South Korea-China summit. The South Korean government and its media concluded that the South Korean and Chinese dispute over THAAD has been resolved with the three No’s that the two countries jointly announced. China did not revoke its position opposing THAAD. It just decided to take a two-track strategy.
China maintains its basic position opposing THAAD, while its practical relationship with South Korea will be separated from the issue and be allowed to recover. It is similar to the Moon administration’s position towards Japan: restore a practical relationship without giving up on the comfort women issue. This has very important implications. The more publicly South Korea acts as if China yielded, the more China will have to pull back its position on THAAD and, in severe cases, restart the sanctions. Also, for China, the joint announcement has become a benchmark, where it intends to see if South Korea actually complies.
In other words, the THAAD issue may reemerge depending on what South Korea does in the future.
Room for Korea to Maneuver
Early November was filled with summit diplomacy: Trump’s visit to South Korea, the South Korea-China summit, and Moon’s visit to Southeast Asia. Although we should be cautious of groupthink, this does not deny the achievements on the diplomatic front. The South Korean government did very well to restore its room to maneuver between China and the US, which was obliterated thanks to the diplomatic failures of the previous administration of President Park Geun-hye, including the THAAD issue. However, the possibility of repeating failures while overestimating successes still exists.
South Korea has barely returned to a situation where it can make a choice. In other words, South Korea is back to the point where it can choose after a long period of lost diplomatic leverage when it muddled between the US and China, telling each side only what they wanted to hear without any real strategy. The issue has not been resolved nor has South Korea succeeded in achieving something. Depending on its future choices, South Korea may succeed or fail.
Now is the real contest in which diplomacy is crucial. The course is correct to stitch up the THAAD issue with China and to pursue a practical two-track strategy regarding Japan. It is also a desirable time to diversify diplomacy with the New Northward policy and the New Southward policy. The strategy serves as an economic vision for mid- to long-term prosperity and an alternative multilateral regime that can overcome the confrontational structure and security dilemma in Northeast Asia.
But the biggest threat is still a complete break of inter-Korean relations stemming from the North Korean nuclear crisis. And as much as this, the unilateral framework of the US-South Korea relationship, where South Korea cannot exert any real power at all, is also an issue to be addressed. The three No’s between South Korea and China are a desirable position, but it would be hard for the US to accept such a position, because it represents South Korea practically drawing the limits of US Asia strategy.
There will also be a harsh backlash to the Trump administration’s focal strategy against China, a trilateral alliance between the US, South Korea, and Japan, and thorough strategic preparation is necessary.
Negotiations need to begin behind curtains. It is natural that even diplomatic matters should be explained and communicated to the public. In that regard, the Moon administration has dissolved the past government’s mismanagement and secret diplomacy and declared a so-called “People-participatory Diplomacy.” However, closed diplomacy might sometimes be necessary in the national interest, and it seems to be necessary now. The recent series of diplomatic movements have become too open to the public and room to maneuver has been narrowed by politicization.
A closed-door strategy is becoming more necessary as the influence of domestic politics on diplomacy is growing in almost all countries compared to the past. It would have been better if the three No’s between China and South Korea had been left unpublicized for a while. North Korea policy, including seeking dialogue, should happen behind curtains.
South Korea holds the fewest options
The reason why the North Korean nuclear crisis is a difficult problem today is that while South Korea is the biggest victim, it holds the fewest options. In this situation, the attitude most likely to emerge is defeatism or vague hopelessness and desperation. These two extremes are prone to fall into the error of groupthink. At the joint press conference by Trump and Moon, a reporter asked Trump about whether he was “passing” South Korea. It was surely a dumbfounding question, but on the other hand, it shows the current situation and the perceptions of South Koreans. Trump’s answer that there is “no skipping” on South Korea does not dictate South Korea’s standing.
But South Koreans should ask themselves hard questions and try to take the initiative. Despite the geopolitical difficulties stemming from the nuclear crisis and the power struggle among the US, Japan, China, and Russia, South Korea does possess considerable power of its own and should make use of the fact that its strategic importance is as high as the problems it faces.
Joonhyung Kim received his undergraduate degree in political science from Yonsei University, and obtained his Master’s and Ph.D. in Political Science from The George Washington University. He is currently a professor of International and Area Studies at Handong Global University, and is serving in the Office of National Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Policy Planning and International Organizations Office, as well as a member of the innovation committee of the Ministry of Unification. Reprinted with permission from the East Asia Foundation. Views expressed are those of the author.
November 20, 2017
Duterte as ASEAN Chair in 2017
by Purple Romero
President Rodrigo Duterte, who took over the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations a year ago, is responsible for a decision to mute controversy over ownership of the South China Sea that has drastically changed ASEAN’s role in the resolution of the longstanding territorial dispute between its claimant-states and China.
Duterte’s year-long leadership of the 10-member pact was hardly a watershed. Overall, the Philippines did put ASEAN towards a more productive path on some points by steering clear of the more contentious issues of addressing human rights issues or giving claimant states much-needed regional support in their territorial conflict with China.
“Given ASEAN’s constraints and limitations, its modus operandi and increasing workload of consultations and discussions, it is difficult to see what else it [the Philippines] could have done within the one-year chairmanship that could make ASEAN more progressive and more productive,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
“It was enough for [the Philippines] to have been able to competently chair and host the meetings without potential serious controversies (particularly regarding the South China Sea and the Rohingya) paralyzing its processes.”
On the issue of the South China Sea and China’s claim to virtually all of it via its so-called Nine-Dash Line, the events of the last year draw a clear contrast to previous actions. Two decades ago, the Philippines had to ask for the help of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over China’s reported military installations in Mischief reef, an atoll claimed by both Manila and Beijing.
ASEAN came to the rescue with a joint communique calling for a code of conduct in 1996, designed to set restrictions on the construction of buildings and military activity in the sea, which was being claimed by ASEAN members Malaysia and Brunei. Vietnam, another claimant, joined ASEAN later.
Fast forward to 2017. ASEAN, under Duterte’s chairmanship, and China has endorsed a framework for the code of conduct. It was Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi – and not ASEAN – which announced the adoption of the framework at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in August.
Wang said both parties would discuss “the principles, and plan for the next stage of consultation of the COC” and build a “consensus.”
ASEAN and China now have announced their commitment to negotiate, saying it “is important that we cooperate to maintain peace.” After 21 years since ASEAN first raised the need for a code of conduct, the negotiations will start next year.
It won’t ultimately show ASEAN’s unity. Ironically, even as it signals an important milestone in the history of resolving the maritime rows between China and clamant-states, it also cements the return to settling the territorial discord over South China Sea through bilateral talks – just the way China wants it.
Duterte’s pivot: Good to a point
As the height of irony, the first sign of the thawing of Manila’s cold relations with Beijing started when the Philippines won its dispute against the latter when an international court in The Hague struck down China’s nine-dash claim in July 2016, scoring a significant win for the Philippines which, devoid of military might, had to cast its lot in the international court of arbitration.
It was a historic win in a David-vs-Goliath scenario. But Duterte was quick to change the tone of the triumph, calling “on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety” instead of celebrating the stunning rebuke to China.
There are two major explanations behind Duterte’s lackluster reaction. US President Barack Obama chastised the Philippine leader for alleged human rights violations allegedly committed under Duterte’s violent and murderous war on drugs, sparking a furious response from Duterte, who responds to criticism of his actions with hair-raising rhetoric.
But in addition, Duterte has always maintained that the Philippines is no match for the military and economic superpower China and that as an Asian neighbor it is in the Philippines’ interest to make its own pivot.
That is a mantra that defined the Philippines’ ASEAN chairmanship. And, while it marked a shocking turnaround for the Philippines – which used to be counted on as one of the most aggressive and vocal ASEAN-member states in its opposition to China’s expansionism in South China Sea – it did help keep China at the negotiating table until a framework on the COC was finalized.
“The Duterte administration’s ‘softly’ approach on its disputes with China in South China Sea permitted the framework agreement to be realized,” said Malcolm Cook, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute.
Prior to Duterte’s reign, his predecessor Benigno Aquino III explored different ways to strengthen the position of the ASEAN claimant-states. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs proposed a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Cooperation in the South China Sea in 2011 to enclave the Spratly and Paracel islands and turn them into a Joint Cooperation Area.
The proposal, however, did not gain much support from other ASEAN members. The following year, China and the Philippines would engage in a standoff in the Scarborough Shoal, pushing the Philippines to consider taking the legal route – and eventually winning – against China.
ASEAN, however, was divided over the Philippines’ victory in 2016. While Vietnam lauded it, Cambodia – which considers China a major economic ally – objected to it being referenced in the joint communique at the 2016 ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, resulting in the first time the organization failed to agree on a joint communique.
When the Philippines chaired ASEAN in 2017, it adopted Cambodia’s stance, negating the mention of Manila’s momentous victory in any forum involving ASEAN and China. The Philippines took that a step further by opposing the inclusion of any objection to China’s alleged militarization and land reclamation in South China Sea in the joint communique in August.
In the ASEAN Regional Forum in August 2017, Philippine foreign affairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano admitted that the Philippines wanted references to land reclamation and militarization in South China Sea dropped in the joint communique, forcing Vietnam into a corner. “They’re not reclaiming land anymore, so why will you put it again this year?” he said.
In the end though, consensus prevailed and the chairman had to give in. The Philippines withdrew its opposition and the joint communique contained language showing concerns over China’s reported militarization and land reclamation activities.
But up until the 31st ASEAN Summit in November, even as the Philippines was caught in another standoff – albeit briefly – with China in Thitu (Pag-asa) island, the Philippines was still generally cordial in its approach.
The most that Duterte did is to bring up with China the concerns of ASEAN about freedom of navigation in the strategic trade route, which China said it wouldn’t impede.
“The warmer ties between Philippines and China, combined with the chairmanship of the Philippines, were instrumental in drawing down the prominence of the (South China Sea) SCS disputes on the ASEAN agenda, from being a divisive issue in 2013 into a practically peripheral matter in 2017,” Jay Bongalo, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said.
“This will allow ASEAN to essentially remove the controversial aspects of the SCS issues from its agenda, move on from playing any really significant role in the resolution of the territorial and jurisdictional rows, and allow the ASEAN claimant countries to deal with their respective issues bilaterally with China.”
Even if the Philippines was able to get the negotiations on the COC going, ASEAN as whole and at its best, will now largely focus on crisis management or prevention. When it comes to resolving territorial tiff, each country will now be left on its own – a crucial victory for Beijing.
ASEAN’s expected “lowest point:” human rights
In the 31st ASEAN Summit, allegations by a long list of human rights organizations over violations and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines were brought up by the US (though this was denied by the Philippines), Canada and New Zealand, countries that are external partners of ASEAN, but not by ASEAN members themselves.
The Philippines, which decried any criticism over the issue from other countries, was also silent on another human rights concern, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar. The Rohingya ethnic group had to flee the Rakhine state in Myanmar due to cases of persecution and discrimination.
This was a curious reaction as Duterte appeared sympathetic to the state of refugees from the Middle East, even saying that they are welcome to the Philippines. In the case of the Rohingya however, the Philippines drew the line when it did not mention the “Rohingya” in its statement at the UN General Assembly in New York in September. This was challenged by Malaysia, which slammed the statement as a “misrepresentation of reality.””
Malaysia has yet to find an ally from ASEAN. At the ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting, Philippine Defense Sec. Delfina Lorenzana said that ASEAN agreed the Rohingya problem is an “internal matter” in Myanmar.
ASEAN’s hands-off attitude over the human rights problems in the Philippines and Myanmar were to be expected, however according to political analysts given the body’s principle of non-interference.
“ASEAN’s handling of the most prominent human rights issues such as the Rohingya crisis and the drug-related killings in the Philippines are definitely the lowest points in its performance,” Batongbacal said. “However, this is to be expected given ASEAN’s non-interference principle and reluctance to discuss human rights issues, as both directly involve the domestic policies of member-states.”
Malcolm agreed, saying ASEAN’s hands are further tied by its principle to act based on consensus. While saying that ASEAN’s response to the reported human rights violations in the Philippines and Myanmar were far from sufficient, one should not expect much from it.
“As ASEAN is an inter-governmental, consensus-based body, one should not expect much from ASEAN in relation to human rights abuses undertaken by member-states,” Malcolm said. “Quiet diplomacy and moral suasion is the best ASEAN will do in this front.”
There’s one bright spot, however when it comes to ASEAN’s action on rights – and that is the signing of the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The agreement, which gives allows migrant workers to form unions apart from enjoying other rights, came 10 years after ASEAN member-states adopted the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in Cebu, Philippines.
United against extremism
ASEAN, while divided on a number of issues, was united when it comes to tackling terrorism, a problem faced by the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Philippines in particular just ended a five-month siege in Marawi city, Mindanao which was caused by the ISIS-inspired Maute group.
ASEAN said it will take on additional preventive measures to stop the growth of terrorism in the region. These include education and enlisting the help of the women and youth sector to counter extremist leanings.
When it comes to another threat to security, however – the nuclear ambition of North Korea – ASEAN, while one with the rest of the international community in condemning its launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles, did not go as far as asking its member-countries to cut ties with North Korea.
“Cambodia and Laos in particular have close relations with North Korea and this has not changed despite the focus on international pressure in North Korea,” Malcolm said.
In trademark ASEAN diplomacy, the regional bloc also kept its doors open to North Korea in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The ARF has previously been touted by ASEAN as a venue for the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, the US, Russia, China and Japan.
Not paralyzed by controversy
Under the Philippine chairmanship, Malcom said ASEAN gained some headway when it comes to trade, signing the ASEAN-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Agreement (AHKFTA) and the ASEAN-Hong Kong Investment Agreement which could spur business opportunities in the region. The regional bloc has yet to gain significant progress though in the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Agreement, which aims to lower tariffs and strengthen regional economic integration and cooperation.
Batongbacal said that ASEAN also deserved some plus points for putting the spotlight on the role of micro, small and medium economic enterprises in economic growth.
November 19, 2017
Toward a People-Centered ASEAN Community
In the 50 years since the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, almost all of Asia has been utterly transformed. ASEAN’s contributions to harnessing and spreading economic dynamism have been essential to the region’s success.
ASEAN TIES. South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at ASEAN-South Korea 2017 Summit in Manila recently.
SEOUL – I am delighted that my first meeting with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations comes at a historic moment: the 50th anniversary of ASEAN’s founding. During those 50 years, not only my country, the Republic of Korea, but almost all of Asia has been utterly transformed. ASEAN’s role in harnessing and spreading economic dynamism has been essential to the region’s success.
For Korea, ASEAN has undoubtedly been a special and valued friend. Last year alone, some six million Koreans visited ASEAN member states, both as tourists and for business. Approximately 500,000 citizens of ASEAN member states now live and work in Korea, while roughly 300,000 Koreans live and work in ASEAN countries.
This is one example of why Korea’s ties with ASEAN are more than just intergovernmental relations. Our relationship is deepened in the most personal way possible, through the intertwining of so many individuals’ lives.
This fact should not surprise anyone. ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together, which was endorsed by ASEAN leaders at their 27th Summit in November 2015, states that the group strives to be a “people-centered, people-oriented community” that seeks to build a caring and sharing society which is inclusive and where the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the people are enhanced.
“People first” has been my longstanding political philosophy as well, and it is a vision in line with the spirit of Korea’s “candlelight revolution” that lit and heated up the winter in Korea a year ago. Korea and ASEAN share a common philosophy that values people, and that shared outlook will set the path that Korea and ASEAN take together in the years and decades ahead.
Since 2010, Korea and ASEAN have made significant strides together as strategic partners. Korea-ASEAN cooperation so far, however, has remained focused mainly on government-led collaboration in political, security, and economic affairs. I intend to help advance Korea-ASEAN relations while placing a high priority on the “people” – both Koreans and the people of ASEAN. My vision is to create, in cooperation with ASEAN, a “peace-loving, people-centered community where all members are better off together.” This can be summed up in “three Ps”: People, Prosperity, and Peace.
To realize this vision, I will pursue “people-centered diplomacy.” So, from this point onward, cooperation between Korea and ASEAN will be developed in a way that respects public opinion among all of the peoples of our association, gains their support, and invites their hands-on participation.
To this end, and in commemoration of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary, we have designated this year as “Korea-ASEAN Cultural Exchange Year,” and actively promoted various cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Last September, the ASEAN Culture House (ACH) opened in Korea’s southern port city of Busan. The ACH is the first of its kind to be opened in an ASEAN dialogue partner country, and it is expected to serve as a hub for cultural and people-to-people exchanges between Korea and ASEAN members. The Korean government will spare no effort to expand these exchanges, especially among the young people who will lead Korea-ASEAN relations in the future.
We should also work to build a community of peace where people are safe. In Asia, we all are facing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, as well as non-traditional security threats, including terrorism, violent extremism, and cyber-attacks on our businesses, our social and civic infrastructure, and our official institutions. The Korean government will strive to ensure that both Koreans and the people of ASEAN are able to lead happy and safe lives, which means cooperating with all ASEAN member states, at both the bilateral and multilateral level, to overcome the security challenges that we jointly face.
Finally, I will endeavor to promote greater mutual prosperity, which benefits citizens of both ASEAN and Korea. To ensure the sustainability of people-centered cooperation, all countries in the region must grow and develop together. Creating a structure for mutual prosperity requires lowering regional and transnational barriers to facilitate the flow of goods and promote people-to-people interactions. In short, ASEAN’s dynamism must now be tied to its inclusiveness.
That is why Korea will actively support the “Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025” and “Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan,” both of which call for enhancing the connectivity between ASEAN economies and citizens. We will also accelerate the pace of negotiations for the further liberalization of a Korea-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA), in order to pave the way for freer and more inclusive growth in the region.
Korea is now preparing for yet another “hot” winter: the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, to be held in February 2018. Our preparations are focused on ensuring that these Games deliver a message of reconciliation, peace, mutual understanding, and cooperation throughout the world.
I happily invite you all to discover a peaceful and joyous winter in PyeongChang, and experience the dynamism sweeping through Korea and ASEAN. Don’t miss an opportunity to find out and enjoy what Korea and ASEAN share in common.
Moon Jae-in is President of the Republic of Korea.
November 16, 2017
Remarks by President Trump on His Trip to Asia
Source: The White House, Washington DC
“I explained to all of the world leaders, and across Asia, how well the United States is doing. Economic growth has been over 3 percent the last two quarters and is going higher. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 17 years. The stock market has gained trillions of dollars in value since my election and has reached record highs. We are massively increasing our military budget to historic levels .–President Donald J. Trump
Last night, I returned from a historic 12-day trip to Asia. This journey took us to five nations to meet with dozens of foreign leaders, participate in three formal state visits, and attend three key regional summits. It was the longest visit to the region by an American President in more than a quarter of a century.
Everywhere we went, our foreign hosts greeted the American delegation, myself included, with incredible warmth, hospitality, and most importantly respect. And this great respect showed very well our country is — further evidence that America’s renewed confidence and standing in the world has never been stronger than it is right now.
When we are confident in ourselves, our strength, our flag, our history, our values — other nations are confident in us. And when we treat our citizens with the respect they deserve, other countries treat America with the respect that our country so richly deserves.
During our travels, this is exactly what the world saw: a strong, proud, and confident America.
Today, I want to update the American people on the tremendous success of this trip and the progress we’ve made to advance American security and prosperity throughout the year.
When I came into office, our country was faced with a series of growing dangers. These threats included rogue regimes pursuing deadly weapons, foreign powers challenging America’s influence, the spread of the murderous terror group ISIS, and years of unfair trade practices that had dangerously depleted our manufacturing base and wiped out millions and millions of middle-class jobs.
The challenges were inherited, and these products really showed what previous mistakes were made over many years — and even decades — by other administrations. Some of these mistakes were born of indifference and neglect. Others from naïve thinking and misguided judgement. In some cases, the negative influence of partisan politics and special interests was to blame. But the one common thread behind all of these problems was a failure to protect and promote the interests of the American people and American workers.
Upon my inauguration, I pledged that we would rebuild America, restore its economic strength, and defend its national security. With this goal in mind, I vowed that we would reaffirm old alliances and form new friendships in pursuit of shared goals. Above all, I swore that in every decision, with every action, I would put the best interests of the American people first.
Over the past 10 months, traveling across the globe and meeting with world leaders, that is exactly what I have done.
Earlier this year, in Saudi Arabia, I spoke to the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations about our strategy to defeat terrorists by stripping them of financing, territory, and ideological support. And I urged the leaders to drive out the terrorists and extremists from their societies. Since that time, we have dealt ISIS one crushing defeat after another.
In Israel, I reaffirmed the unbreakable bond between America and the Jewish State, and I met with leaders of the Palestinian Authority and initiated an effort to facilitate lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
In Brussels, I urged our NATO allies to do more to strengthen our crucial alliance and set the stage for significant increases in member contributions. Billions and billions of dollars are pouring in because of that initiative. NATO, believe me, is very happy with Donald Trump and what I did.
In Warsaw, I declared to the world America’s resolve to preserve and protect Western civilization and the values we hold so dear.
In Rome, Sicily, Hamburg, and Paris, I strengthened our friendships with key allies to promote our shared interests of security and prosperity.
In September, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, I urged that the nations of the world join in confronting rogue regimes that threaten humanity and laid out a model for international cooperation grounded in respect for sovereignty and the responsibilities that come with it.
On each trip, I have worked to advance American interests and leadership in the world.
And to each of these places, I have carried our vision for a better — a vision for something stronger and sovereign — so important — sovereign and independent nations, rooted in their histories, confident in their destinies, and cooperating together to advance their security, prosperity, and the noble cause of peace.
It was this same vision that I carried to Asia two weeks ago. And it was this same commitment to you, the American people, that was always at the forefront of my mind and my thinking.
Our trip was defined by three core goals. First: to unite the world against the nuclear menace posed by the North Korean regime, a threat that has increased steadily through many administrations and now requires urgent action.
Second: to strengthen America’s alliances and economic partnerships in a free and open Indo-Pacific, made up of thriving, independent nations, respectful of other countries and their own citizens, and safe from foreign domination and economic servitude.
And third: to finally — after many years — insist on fair and reciprocal trade. Fair and reciprocal trade — so important. These two words — fairness and reciprocity — are an open invitation to every country that seeks to do business with the United States, and they are a firm warning to every country that cheats, breaks the rules, and engages in economic aggression — like they’ve been doing in the past, especially in the recent past.
That is why we have almost an $800-billion-a-year trade deficit with other nations. Unacceptable. We are going to start whittling that down, and as fast as possible.
With these goals, it was my profound honor to travel on this journey as your representative. I explained to all of the world leaders, and across Asia, how well the United States is doing. Economic growth has been over 3 percent the last two quarters and is going higher. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 17 years. The stock market has gained trillions of dollars in value since my election and has reached record highs. We are massively increasing our military budget to historic levels. The House has just passed a nearly $700 billion defense package, and it could not come at a better time for our nation.
Once again our country is optimistic about the future, confident in our values, and proud of our history and a role in the world.
I want to thank every citizen of this country for the part you have played in making this great American comeback possible. In Asia, our message was clear and well received: America is here to compete, to do business, and to defend our values and our security.
We began our trip in Hawaii to pay our respects to brave American service members at Pearl Harbor and the United States Pacific Command, the guardian of our security and freedom across the Indo-Pacific region.
As our country prepared to observe Veterans Day, we remembered the incredible sacrifices and courage of all of the veterans whose service has preserved our liberty and a way of life that is very special. We also thanked military families for their support for our brave servicemen and women.
From Hawaii, we traveled to Japan, a crucial U.S. ally and partner in the region . Upon landing in Japan, my first act was to thank the American service members and Japanese Self-Defense Forces who personify the strength of our enduring alliance.
Prime Minister Abe and I agreed on our absolute determination to remain united to achieve the goal of denuclearized North Korea. Shortly following our visit, Japan announced additional sanctions on 35 North Korean entities and individuals. Japan also committed to shouldering more of the burden of our common defense by reimbursing costs borne by American taxpayers, as well as by making deep investments in Japan’s own military. This will include purchases of U.S. advanced capabilities — from jet fighters to missile defense systems worth many, many billions of dollars — and jobs for the American worker.
The Prime Minister and I also discussed ways we can deepen our trade relationship based on the core principles of fairness and reciprocity. I am pleased that since January of this year, Japanese companies have announced investments in the United States worth more than $8 billion — 17,000 jobs. Thank you.
Oh, they don’t have water? That’s okay. What? That’s okay.
THE PRESIDENT: Japanese manufacturers, Toyota and Mazda, announced that they will be opening a new plant in the United States that will create 4,000 jobs.
We also signed agreements between our nations to enhance infrastructure development, increase access to affordable energy, and advance our foreign policy goals through economic investment.
From Japan, we traveled to another key American ally in Asia — the Republic of Korea. My official state visit to South Korea was the first by an American President in 25 years.
Speaking before the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, I spoke the truth about the evil crimes of the North Korean regime, and I made clear that we will not allow this twisted dictatorship to hold the world hostage to nuclear blackmail.
I called on every nation, including China and Russia, to unite in isolating the North Korean regime — cutting off all ties of trade and commerce — until it stops its dangerous provocation on — and this is the whole key to what we’re doing — on denuclearization. We have to denuclearize North Korea.
We have ended the failed strategy of strategic patience, and, as a result, we have already seen important progress — including tough new sanctions from the U.N. council — we have a Security Council that has been with us and just about with us from the beginning.
South Korea agreed to harmonize sanctions and joined the United States in sanctioning additional rogue actors whose fund and funds have helped North Korea and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It’s unacceptable to us.
The United States welcomed the decision of President Moon to remove the payload restrictions on missiles to combat the North Korean threat. And together we reaffirmed our commitment to a campaign of maximum pressure.
Like Japan, South Korea is increasing its defense contributions. During our meetings, President Moon acknowledged his desire for equitable cost-sharing for the United States military forces stationed in South Korea. And I visited soldiers at Camp Humphreys, a brand-new, joint American-South Korean base, paid for almost entirely by the South Korean government. At that base, I discussed with the United States and South Korean military leaders both military options and readiness to respond to North Korean provocation or offensive actions.
During our visit, President Moon and I also discussed America’s commitment to reducing our trade deficit with South Korea. At my discretion and direction, we are currently renegotiating the disastrous U.S.-Korea trade agreement signed under the previous administration. It has been a disaster for the United States.
Last week, 42 South Korean companies announced their intent to invest in projects worth more than $17 billion dollars in the United States, and 24 companies announced plans to purchase $58 billion dollars in American goods and services.
From South Korea, Melania and I traveled to China, where, as in Japan and South Korea, we were greatly honored by the splendor of our reception. Our trip included the first official dinner held for a foreign leader in the Forbidden City since the founding of the modern China, where we enjoyed a very productive evening hosted by President Xi and his wonderful wife, Madam Pung.
During our visit, President Xi pledged to faithfully implement United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea and to use his great economic influence over the regime to achieve our common goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
President Xi recognizes that a nuclear North Korea is a grave threat to China, and we agreed that we would not accept a so-called “freeze for freeze” agreement like those that have consistently failed in the past. We made that time is running out and we made it clear, and all options remain on the table.
I also had very candid conversations with President Xi about the need to reduce our staggering trade deficit with China and for our trading relationship to be conducted on a truly fair and equitable basis. We can no longer tolerate unfair trading practices that steal American jobs, wealth, and intellectual property. The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over.
In China, we also announced $250 billion worth in trade-investment deals that will create jobs in the United States.
From China, I flew to the city of Da Nang in Vietnam, to attend the Leaders Meeting for APEC — Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. There, I spoke to a major gathering of business leaders, where I reminded the world of America’s historic role in the Pacific as a force for freedom and for peace.
Standing on this proud history, I offered our vision for robust trading relationships in which Indo-Pacific nations can all prosper and grow together. I announced that the United States is ready to make bilateral trade deals with any nation in the region that wants to be our partner in fair and reciprocal trade.
We will never again turn a blind eye to trading abuses, to cheating, economic aggression, or anything else from countries that profess a belief in open trade, but do not follow the rules or live by its principles themselves.
No international trading organization can function if members are allowed to exploit the openness of others for unfair economic gain. Trade abuses harm the United States and its workers — but no more. No more.
We will take every trade action necessary to achieve the fair and reciprocal treatment that the United States has offered to the rest of the world for decades.
My message has resonated. The 21 APEC leaders — for the first time ever — recognized the importance of fair and reciprocal trade, recognized the need to address unfair trade practices, and acknowledged that the WTO is in strong need of reform. These leaders also noted that countries must do a better job following the rules to which they agreed.
I also made very clear that the United States will promote a free and open Indo-Pacific in which nations enjoy the independence and respect they deserve.
In Vietnam, during a state visit in Hanoi, I also met with President Quang and Prime Minister Fook to discuss the growing friendship between our countries. Our Vietnamese partners are taking new actions to enforce sanctions on North Korea. In addition, we committed to expand trade and investment between our countries, and we pledged to address the imbalances. I am particularly pleased that the United States and Vietnam recently announced $12 billion in commercial agreements, which will include $10 billion in U.S. content.
Finally, I visited the Philippines, where I met with numerous world leaders at the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia Summits. At ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — we made it clear that no one owns the ocean. Freedom of navigation and overflight are critical to the security and prosperity of all nations.
I also met with the Prime Ministers of India, Australia, and Japan to discuss our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
During our visit, President Duterte of the Philippines thanked the American people and our armed forces for supporting the recent liberation of Marawi from ISIS. We pledged to strengthen and deepen our long-standing alliance.
At the East Asia Summit, the United States negotiated and signed four important leaders’ statements on the use of chemical weapons, money laundering, poverty alleviation, and countering terrorist propaganda and financing.
And crucially, at both summits and throughout the trip, we asked all nations to support our campaign of maximum pressure for North Korean denuclearization. And they are responding by cutting trade with North Korea, restricting financial ties to the regime, and expelling North Korean diplomats and workers.
Over the last two weeks, we have made historic strides in reasserting American leadership, restoring American security, and reawakening American confidence.
Everywhere we went, I reaffirmed our vision for cooperation between proud, independent and sovereign countries — and I made clear that the United States will be a reliable friend, a strong partner, and a powerful advocate for its own citizens.
The momentum from our trip will launch us on our continued effort to accomplish the three core objectives I outlined: to unite the world against North Korean nuclear threat, to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and to advance fair and reciprocal economic relations with our trading partners and allies in the region.
We have established a new framework for trade that will ensure reciprocity through enforcement actions, reform of international organizations, and new fair trade deals that benefit the United States and our partners.
And we have laid out a pathway toward peace and security in our world where sovereign nations can thrive, flourish, and prosper side-by-side.
This is our beautiful vision for the future. This is a where this vision — this dream — is only possible if America is strong, proud, and free.
As long as we are true to ourselves, faithful to our founding, and loyal to our citizens, then there is no task too great, no dream too large, no goal beyond our reach.
My fellow citizens: America is back. And the future has never looked brighter.
Thank you. God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you all.