The 31st Asean Sum­mit: An un­qual­i­fied suc­cess

Manila Times - - OPINION -

Y all in­di­ca­tions and in many re­spects, the Philippine chair­man­ship of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions ( Asean), capped by this week’s 31st Asean Sum­mit and Re­lated Sum­mits,

The agree­ments reached in Manila this week – on the pro­tec­tion of mi­grant work­ers, the launch of ne­go­ti­a­tions on a sea code of con­duct, and new trade deals, among oth­ers – be­lie Western char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of Asean as a mere talk shop.

These agree­ments dove­tailed with the six pri­or­ity themes an­nounced by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte as the Philip­pines took over the Asean chair­man­ship this year: “a peo­ple-ori­ented and peo­ple-cen­tered Asean; peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion; mar­itime se­cu­rity and co­op­er­a­tion; in­clu­sive, in­no­va­tion-led growth; re­siliency; and Asean as a model of re­gion­al­ism, a global player.”

A con­crete ef­fort to bridge the pol­icy gap and al- the re­gion’s in­te­gra­tion ef­forts was the “Con­sen­sus Doc­u­ment on the Pro­tec­tion and Pro­mo­tion of the than 210,000 Filipino work­ers in the re­gion.

The doc­u­ment up­holds fair treat­ment of mi­grant work­ers with re­spect to gen­der and na­tion­al­ity, pro­vides for visi­ta­tion rights by fam­ily mem­bers, of place­ment or re­cruit­ment fees, pro­tects against vi­o­lence and sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place, reg­u­lates re­cruiters for bet­ter pro­tec­tion of work­ers and re­spects their right to fair and ap­pro­pri­ate re- unions and as­so­ci­a­tions.

Un­der Duterte as this year’s sum­mit host, Asean con­tin­ued to be the most im­por­tant venue for re­gional af­fairs, pre­serv­ing the core tenet of “Asean cen­tral­ity” even with the re­gional play­ers – the United States, Rus­sia, China, Ja­pan and In­dia – on the ta­ble.

The Manila sum­mit saw US Pres­i­dent Don­ald strat­egy, con­sol­i­dat­ing its al­liances with In­dia, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia to check China’s su­per­power am­bi­tions.

This com­ple­ments the prin­ci­ple of Asean cen­tral­ity, which has also pre­vented China from over­rid­ing Asean. China agreed on Mon­day with the re­gional Code of Con­duct in the South China Sea.

The new code, al­beit non-legally bind­ing, prom­ises to be more ex­ten­sive than the 2002 Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea, which has been largely in­ef­fec­tive.

Also this week, Hong Kong be­came the sixth econ­omy to sign a free trade agree­ment with Asean (af­ter main­land China, Ja­pan, Korea, In­dia and Aus­tralia- eco­nomic ties be­tween the Asean and China.

Now mark­ing its 50th year, Asean has suc­cess­fully evolved as an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion. It is no longer a re­ac­tionary re­sponse of newly in­de­pen­dent, loosely al­lied states to the Cold War.

Rather, Asean is a po­lit­i­cal se­cu­rity, so­cio­cul­tural and most im­por­tant, an eco­nomic com­mu­nity of 10 na­tions col­lec­tively rep­re­sent­ing Asia’s third largest econ­omy and the world’s third largest mar­ket. It is clearly a force to reckon with, even for ri­val pow­ers seek­ing to dom­i­nate it.

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