Pax Asia-Pacifica and Restoring Philippine Credibility in ASEAN

01.04.2016
Foreign Affairs Security

When dealing with China, and with the international political powers more generally, scholars observe among Filipinos the persistence of an outmoded Cold War mindset that no longer reflects reality.

  1. Promote the Pax Asia-Pacifica—a larger, longer-term foreign policy vision with the Philippines as a regional leader

  2. Address the Philippines’ credibility issue in ASEAN and salvage the great power contest

 

Promote the Pax Asia-Pacifica—a larger, longer-term foreign policy vision with the Philippines as a regional leader

Context

When dealing with China, and with the international political powers more generally, scholars observe among Filipinos the persistence of an outmoded Cold War mindset that no longer reflects reality. This has prevented the development of an independent, pragmatic, and flexible Philippine foreign policy. What one would hope to achieve going forward is more effective, sophisticated, and pragmatic statecraft and an inspiring, ambitious long-term vision that transcends a mere six-year term and advances the future that our nation desires for the Filipino people. If this is achieved, rather than appearing as an inconsistent and self-interested partner to ASEAN, there is an opportunity for the Philippines to emerge as an independent, visionary partner in foreign affairs and can be part of the ongoing work to establish and deepen the Southeast Asian region. 

The Philippines can boast a long history of regionalism; in this we have often been a historical leader. The first colonized peoples to explore Pan-Asianism in Southeast Asia were the Filipinos and the Vietnamese, against the Spanish, Americans, and French colonial powers from as early as the 1890s; and the Philippines was one of the three founding nations of Maphilindo in 1963, supporting the confederation of the Malay peoples in the region. 

The Philippine Revolution was the first modern anti-colonial national revolution in Southeast Asia and the First Philippine Republic was the first modern republic in Southeast Asia. The Philippines has long held the capacity for vision, modernity, and leadership in the region, and it is time we again turn home to the region, in pursuit of our national interests and in support of the larger community with whom our future will undoubtedly lie.

Policy proposal 

  • Champion a new, comprehensive Pax Asia-Pacifica, which centers on economic cooperation and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) centrality, under which joint development of the resources of the Spratly Islands is subsumed. 
    • The appeal should rest on former President Fidel Ramos’s 2011 suggestion of a transition from the region’s Pax Americana to a comprehensive Pax Asia-Pacifica “based on mutual benefits rather than on the balance of power.”1 
    • This framework will support and enhance ongoing efforts within the region, enshrining ‘ASEAN centrality’ as a stabilizing pillar of the Pax Asia-Pacifica.
    • The Pax Asia-Pacifica envisions and supports a multipolar world of several great powers, including Japan, India, and Russia, as well as ASEAN, not the hegemony of either the U.S. or China as a super power.
    • In support of this framework, the Philippines should appeal to the PRC’s desire for a leadership role in Asia to both secure regional peace and to maximize the Philippines’ potential economic, security, and territorial gains. 
    • The proximate goal is peaceful joint development of the Spratlys with joint benefactors, and the long-term goal is economic cooperation and humanitarian collaboration in a stronger, safer, more dynamic, and more harmonious Asia Pacific region.

 

Address the Philippines’ credibility issue in ASEAN and salvage the great power contest

Context

The Philippines’ branding of China as a bully and attempt to maneuver the U.S. into backing our claims has only inflamed the PRC. Through the lack of bilateral engagement, the unnecessarily provocative posturing of the Philippine President, and the increased military cooperation between the U.S. and the Philippines, the Philippines has not only constructed a contest for China to prove its power in the Asia-Pacific region vis-à-vis the U.S., but also invited China to use the dispute with the Philippines as the easiest win in this contest. 

It is in the Philippines’ interest to defuse the U.S.-China contest as it relates to the Spratlys and to dial down the nationalistic and aggressive rhetoric, in order to secure peace and maximal strategic dividends. Indeed, under the aggressive approach of President Aquino, Chinese expansion has accelerated, and Filipino fishermen have less access to fishing grounds and suffer increased harassment by Chinese warships. 

Given the lack of credibility to our foreign policy, which drastically switches with each presidential administration and which is viewed by some ASEAN members as being merely a proxy for the U.S. and Japan’s wishes/interference in the region, we must aid ASEAN efforts to resolve the dispute, maintain constant communication with our partners, and give credibility to our desire to uphold ASEAN centrality. We must do this in tandem with a longer, larger foreign policy vision centered on regional collaboration and economic cooperation to evidence that this is a mature foreign policy that will last across presidencies, taking the middle ground after having experienced the swings of both extremes. Only this restoration of our foreign policy credibility will incentivize ASEAN to partner with us. As evidence of our acting in good faith for the large region, we should link these new efforts to our recent and ongoing moves toward effecting ASEAN economic integration. 

Policy proposal

  • The Philippines must address its credibility problem within ASEAN by presenting the Pax Asia-Pacifica and multilateral ASEAN-based commitment to joint development of resources as the rational, sustainable, mutually beneficial solution for all parties
    • Prove to ASEAN that the Philippines is not merely using the forum to strengthen its own position, as it has done in the past
    • Link this new regionalist effort to our recent and ongoing moves toward effecting ASEAN economic integration, as evidence of our acting in good faith for the larger region, and not merely for our national benefit
    • Emphasize to the international and domestic publics that this multilateral and regionalist approach is a middle ground that seeks to avoid the excesses of both Benigno S. Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s extreme partisanship on the sides of the U.S. and China, respectively, neither of which resulted in meaningful advancement in the resolution of this dispute
    • Prepare the domestic Philippine public for this message, immediately taking steps to address the nationalism and anti-Chinese rhetoric that has been stirred at home
  • The Philippines should salvage the great power contest it has helped to invite in the region by helping both China and the U.S. to ‘save face’ in the Spratlys, while capitalizing on the international attention and urgency focused on the issue towards making the ongoing talks outcome-oriented instead of process-driven (the latter of which favors China’s strategy)
    • Dial down the nationalist rhetoric and the rhetoric on U.S. backing
    • Directly reassure the PRC that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is purely for protection, and “excuse” it by explaining that the continued security agreements with Japan and the U.S. are out of the new administration’s hands, given the past administrations’ actions
    • Directly reassure Japan and the U.S. that the new foreign policy does not represent an extreme swing that abandons our new and longstanding partners, but rather a reorientation toward the region that seeks to establish a durable, mutually beneficial multilateral security architecture and the economic development of all in the region
    • This will allow the Philippines to play both sides, taking advantage of the Aquino administration’s partisanship while still moving toward the middle ground

FOOTNOTES

1

Fidel V. Ramos, “Turn disputes over Spratlys from powder keg into basis for Pax Asia-Pacifica,” South China Morning Post, July 20, 2011, accessed April 30, 2014, retrieved from http://raissarobles.com/2011/07/20/turn-dispute-over-spratlys-into-basis-for-peace-former-pres-fidel-v-ramos/ 

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