A full agenda at ASEAN Summit
AGAIN, we were the perfect hosts during the event of the year. We even created a special lane for ASEAN delegates at EDSA but this didn’t turn out to be such a good idea as it resulted in a heavy traffic jam. Many people had taken advantage of the two-day holiday last Monday and Tuesday and started leaving Manila Saturday for out of town.
Sunday’s gala dinner must have been so special that it drew praises from US President Trump. Our former CCP colleague Nes Jardin is such a perfectionist every cultural production he oversees becomes a noteworthy event. The barongs created by designer Albert Andrada were elegant and looked especially good on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who was welcomed like a pop star when he arrived at Clark. He took advantage of the free time before the Summit to visit a health center and a food chain. Announcing a landmark deal for migrant workers by the President during his opening address was just the right way to start the Summit. It was an issue close to the heart of everyone. It affects many member states which have a large labor force overseas, or are themselves hosts to migrants. It supports ASEAN’s goals of access to justice, rights, and mutual cooperation.
ASEAN must consider terrorism and other security issues as priority concerns, as well, he noted. According to Rohan Gunaratne, a terrorism expert, 2017 will be decisive year for the ISIS group which had shown its ability to plan, direct, recruit, and radicalize from abroad. Its propaganda making and online presence are formidable, and that as it continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, it will transform itself into a terrorist organization.
The Rohingya crisis will likewise be placed on the agenda as it is a humanitarian concern that needs a timely and appropriate response. ASEAN’s concerted pressure should be able to ensure that those who have sought refuge in Bangladesh should be allowed to return as citizens to Myanmar, their home country. Amnesty International likewise would like to see the human rights issue addressed. And women’s groups hope that the gender issues would be prioritized.
The business sector appeared to be well prepared in terms of a responsive agenda for collaboration. “Build, Build, Build dominated the business talks. The business summit opened with Aung San Suu Kyi, who invited the businessmen to visit Myanmar and to see how its economy had grown following the introduction of reforms. Joey Concepcion, Summit chair, announced the launch of the mentorship network for entrepreneurship. At both the Business summit and Open Markets forum where Russian Prime Minister Medvedev delivered the keynote address, there was recognition of the importance of strengthening and promoting inclusive opportunities for medium and small-scale industries (MSMEs). By 2025, MSMEs shall have been integrated into the ASEAN economy, businessman Barcelon noted. We did not know before that the best infrastructure is found in dictatorship countries and that the European Union is a better trading partner than the United States or China.
Someone had earlier said that both Duterte and Trump could have been brothers at an earlier life because they seem to share similar characteristics and perspectives on many issues. On the South China Sea, Trump had earlier volunteered to mediate in the sea dispute while Duterte said he would prioritize the Code of Conduct on the agenda. But later, Trump was mum on the South China Sea conflict and Duterte later said that he would not touch on the issue. “Let’s not waste lives over the sea conflict, he said, as it would mean going to war and this is not the time for aggression.” On the EJK or extrajudicial killings, Duterte said that he was sure that Trump won’t raise this concern. And indeed, there were no contentious issues raised; only compliments on a summit that was well organized.
Since its inception in 1967, ASEAN, had been primarily a political entity. But in late 2015, it decided to organize as an ASEAN Economic Community with its member states seeking to form a single market and production base for the free flow of goods, services, investments, and skilled labor within the region. Everyone is optimistic about its future because of the size of its population and its having a large consumer base. But it has also limitations. In politics as well as in business, its policy of non-interference and its ASEAN value of decision-making by consensus and compromise had prevented it from taking a firm stand on critical or controversial issues needing urgent response. There are other problems identified – such as the free flow of labor and removal of tariffs for agricultural products while the farm sector is still trying to diversify or become more efficient.