Decade of ASEAN peace, cooperation

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    WE just ended a year marked with trepidation, hopelessness and even panic, but we survived it, still pushing the fight against a virus that has proven to be more virulent than those which came before it.

    We also ended a decade that began with great uncertainty as the world entered a period of shifting geo-economic and hence, geopolitical tectonic plates. This started with the US financial crash in 2009 that enabled the shift of prosperity from the West to the East.

    The year 2011 started the decade with US President Barack Obama recognizing Asia as the next decade’s leading growth area and wanted his country to stay on top of it. Thus he declared “Pivot to Asia,” triggering concerns in the region, particularly China. It did not calm things when US allies in Asia started raising territorial issues deeply emotional to China at the same time, such as, the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands with Japan and the Scarborough Shoals with the Philippines.

    ‘Despite the rising tension in the decade’s first half, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China persevered in numerous initiatives and partnerships that built confidence and trust.’

    Despite the rising tension in the decade’s first half, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China persevered in numerous initiatives and partnerships that built confidence and trust. The sheer density of the activities to deal with a whole range of issues to promote and establish dialogue and cooperation between ASEAN and China is mind-boggling.

    Activities ranged from countless people-to-people relations and cultural exchanges, trade and tourism pacts, anti-illegal drugs and anti-terrorism agreements, environmental and climate change understandings, defense cooperation and coast guard pacts and, most recently, health and anti-COVID-19 cooperation.

    In 2012, ASEAN launched the talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to complement the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA). This has created the largest free trade area that encompasses 30% of the world’s population and trade, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, while keeping the door open to India.

    Eight years in the making, RCEP fortifies the peaceful milieu of the ASEAN and China, as well as all of the Asia-Pacific. It is a signal achievement of this partnership that has overcome misunderstandings and tensions, border disputes and diplomatic standoffs, and cynical commentaries of extra-regional detractors. It has demonstrated how cooperating Asian nations can triumph over any and all challenges.

    The decade of fruitful continuous dialogues and cooperation has achieved an ascending evolution of peace and security, economic stability and progressive prosperity, containment of a once-in-a-century pandemic in the region, while ensuring the earliest economic recovery.

    The success of the past decades prepares the ASEAN, China and the rest of the region for the next decade’s giant steps forward, such as the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea whose final signing is aimed for 2021. It is worth noting that future resolutions of disputes may see a prototype in the China-Philippines 60/40 Reed Bank oil and gas joint venture agreement whose provisions are in favor of the smaller nation.

    The year 2021 ushers in a new era of China-ASEAN relations. This is based on the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 that was forged in the 20th ASEAN-China Summit in Manila in 2017. This document seeks to chart the future and contribute to building an open, inclusive, and sustainable world that enjoys peace, security and common prosperity.