THE 31st Asean Summit meetings ended last week and so did the respective bilateral meetings that the 10 heads of state and government had with Asean’s dialogue partners—the European Union, India, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China.
All the official statements from the meetings came out lauding the successful results. The Philippines, this year’s host and chair of the meetings, which fell on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the regional grouping, called it a “tremendous success.”
This is a new era for Asean’s integration efforts to consolidate the region into a cultural-economic-political entity similar to the European Union and establish it as an influential, fastest growing market of 640 million population—and still counting—in the next two decades.
China’s official statement released by its state-owned news agency Xinhua praised the conference as President Xi Jinping used it to trumpet Beijing’s role as the world’s champion of world economic cooperation. He called globalization an “irreversible historical trend.”
US President Donald Trump who left a day before the closing ceremonies was the first of the dialogue partners to officially call it a “success” and praise President Rodrigo Duterte’s stewardship of the summit.
Naturally there were criticisms too. Most of the Philippine national media decried the fact that the Asean closing statement omitted any mention of the South China Sea dispute that China has with Asean members Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Another Asean concern that the summit failed to address was China’s military facilities buildup in the “islands” it had created on the reefs and atolls in the disputed Spratly archipelago. For the past four years, the free media of the Asean members, particularly in the Philippines, have branded China as the neighborhood bully harassing the smaller and weaker Asean members with its economic and military muscle.
Of course Beijing’s Communist Party of China and its ruling seven-man Central Committee headed by Xi (who is also head of the military or People’s Liberation Army), which completely controls the Chinese media, denies this.
Beijing’s position is that the South China Sea is a territory of China and the military buildup is for the “defense” of China’s territory. And while China follows the international rule of freedom of navigation, and lets international commercial shipping and flyover of foreign commercial aircraft on Chinese territory, naval ships or military vessels of other countries are required to seek prior permission from Beijing.
The political enemies of President Duterte have castigated him for missing the chance to get the other nine Asean members to close ranks and support the Philippines to push forward the ruling of the International Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines: that the Chinese have no territorial or sovereign right over the Spratlys and the ocean resources that the Philippines is entitled to under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Let’s face it. Both laudatory and negative statements on the Asean summit are naturally biased. That is because their individual national interests (normally an extension of the domestic laws and regulations, the welfare of its own citizens, sovereignty of the state and territorial integrity, national security and the supremacy of its own political ideology/governance) are their priorities. And the truth is in-between.
The dictionary has a definition of diplomacy. In actual practice, one wise man said, diplomacy is the art of telling a lie with a straight face and a smile. That is because after the World War II ended in 1945,the crude gunboat diplomacy of the exploration and colonialization eras was de-emphasized (or covered) by the US and its allies, leaving the communist world led by Russia to retain it.
Remember how Mao Zedong once said power comes out from the barrel of a gun? And Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with fear (led by his KGB secret agents under Leverenti Beria) and exiling opposition leaders to the gulags of Siberia?
Instead, the Americans and Western Europe used their economic supremacy and the friendly persuasion of financial and technical aid to the former colonies in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. This strategy was also used to rehabilitate the war damages in Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. They boosted this with mass communications technologies (the propagation of free press and human rights) to spread freedom.
he communist world (Russia, China, North Korea, North Vietnam) concentrated on their military development to catch up with the Americans who used the atomic bomb on Japan, forcing the Imperial Army to surrender on orders of the Emperor.
Western Europe and the US refined gunboat diplomacy into the nuclear age and the race for supremacy in the race to conquer space because the ability to shoot rockets, animals and humans into space is equivalent to the capacity to bomb your enemy with nuclear warheads on earth and lead to mutual total annihilation.
This is where diplomacy comes in. Publicly, the superpowers do not trust each other. Mutual distrust is the name of the game. You do not have to believe me but I have seen this as a professional news correspondent, editor and publisher over the past 60 years here and abroad.
The only way to win a “friendly competition” is to use all the tools available—diplomacy, economic cooperation, sophisticated telecommunication, cultural and educational exchanges—for mutual understanding or whatever you want to call the interactions between sovereign nations—industrial and technically superior or developed people and the small and economically inferior nations.
At the end of the day, the economically superior state or nation wins the game because it is better in applying to its advantage—and influencing—the information it gets in its “diplomatic” offensives.
The realities of globalization—or you want to call it the international interaction among nations for influence or hegemony—are hard and harsh. Because diplomacy is communicated in civilized and non-offensive language. Treaties and agreements are fine but winners always have alternatives developed through gathering accurate information—the truth. That is why research or gathering data or information is vitally important in this 21st century.
This is especially what the Asean 10 must do and apply for the region predicted to be the fastest growing economic group in the next 20 years. Notice how the Chinese, and the Americans talked in the Asean summit, and in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam a week before the Manila meetings?
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