A full agenda at ASEAN Sum­mit

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features - By FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID My email, florangel.braid@ gmail.com

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.

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