ASEAN to stay united in peace

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    `The enticement to some of the smaller claimant countries to jump on the offer of support of one superpower against another would have been tempting, but unpredictable consequences could ensue from an intensified geopolitical competition.’

    THE COVID-19 times continue to pose challenges that rise and subside unpredictably as countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and Australia discover in the last few weeks after earlier curbing the virus in various degrees of success.

    Coupled with the pandemic, all the vast majority of the countries of the world face the consequential economic and financial calamity, creating seemingly insurmountable obstacles to restoring normalcy in the near future.

    In the midst of this chaos, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been challenged recently by an additional test to its unity — the escalation of the superpower rivalry between two contesting geopolitical and economic superpowers over controversial issues in the South China Sea.

    One global superpower dropped its earlier policy of neutrality on the territorial claims of the other superpower in the South China Sea and declared the latter’s claim as “unlawful” while announcing its support to rival claimants of the ASEAN.

    The pronouncement was timed for the 4th anniversary of the 2016 South China Sea arbitration conclusion, clearly addressing the message to ASEAN and its members engaged in the territorial and maritime disputes.

    The enticement to some of the smaller claimant countries to jump on the offer of support of one superpower against another would have been tempting, but unpredictable consequences could ensue from an intensified geopolitical competition.

    Wisely, the member-nations of ASEAN all kept their peace and went on the Asian way of continuing its focus on the regional cooperation response to the COVID-19, mobilizing its free trade agreement to move the region’s economic recovery along and continue its negotiation on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

    As political science professor and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Security Studies Program Taylor Fravel said, “Southeast Asian states do not want to choose between the US and China…” which seems to be the wisest position to take.

    ASEAN signed two significant agreements over the decades declaring their ideals of tranquility for the region and the world. These are the declaration of ASEAN as ZOPFAN or Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, and the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapons Free Zone Treaty.

    President Rodrigo R. Duterte as leader of the strategically pivotal country in the security architecture of the region, in his recent State of the Nation Address, reiterated the independent foreign policy and denial of foreign military bases’ presence in the country, thus, ensuring the triumph of neutrality, peace and the focus on economic recovery of the region in this time of pandemic and beyond.

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