The Philippines’ chairmanship and hosting of the 2017 ASEAN Summit under the leadership of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, is highly providential and timely. Providential and timely in that it gives him the opportunity to show his political capability to preside over the destiny of the 10-member nations vis-à-vis the South China Sea row and press forging agreement with China on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.
In fact, “China’s agreement to begin discussions with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the fine print of a code of conduct framework for the disputed South China Sea will be a “stabilizer” for the region,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the other week. Li, addressing Asean leaders during a summit in Manila, said there was a consensus on moving forward and to try to peacefully resolve the thorny issue. A transcript of his speech released by China’s foreign ministry last Nov. 14 says it all: “We hope the talks on the code of Conduct will bolster mutual understanding and trust. We will strive under the agreement to reach a consensus on achieving early implementation of the code of conduct”.
It will once again give the country the opportunity to showcase the culture and hospitality of the Filipinos as chair and host to the ASEAN Summit 2017 leaders at its most propitious time of existence —50th Foundation Anniversary–as hub of inclusive socio-economic development growth.
Historically, this 10-member nations had been borne out of the need for a cohesive approach towards socio-economic development by the visionary pioneering leadership of then SEATO 5-member states namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
And the rest became history. Now, an aggrupation of 10-member countries with diverse culture and ideologies, ASEAN, by any measure, is a force to reckon with. Its strategic geo-political location and 600 million plus population makes it a magnet for a strong diplomatic and economic ties the far east and western countries cannot afford to ignore.
It serves as an immense source of opportunities for inclusive growth. These givens have been recognized by the strong and wealthy nations (G-20) lead by Australia, Canada, China, European Union, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
As chair of the ASEAN Summit, the country is expected to gain dividends in terms of goodwill, stronger diplomatic and economic ties among ASEAN, far east and European Union nations. The 60,000 deployed security forces and the estimated Php 15 B expenditures allocated by the government to make the ASEAN Summit successful in terms of agreements, future plans forged including primarily, the convenience and security of the 16 heads of state led by US President Donald Trump are worth the efforts and logistics spent.
Again, we hope and pray that the internal problems the Duterte administration is dealing with be resolved with dispatch by the authorities concerned. The government’s objective towards inclusive growth would be realized in the long run only, if and when, political bickerings and grandstandings are set aside to give way to full concentration on solving internal problems with dispatch.
The benefits we can derive from the ASEAN momentum towards diplomatic and socio-economic integration would be realized if we focus on “build, build, build” approach rather than “destroy, destroy, destroy” which some sectors are trying to pursue with impunity.