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Constructive engagement is better, but…

by December 25, 2016 General



My last week’s column raised the probability of China as the threat to Asean peace and regional security/stability because of her ambition to be the Asia-Pacific region’s top geopolitical, economic and military power, supported by Beijing’s economic growth and diplomatic offensive as well as its military buildup and claim of territorial sovereignty over the South China Sea for the last 20 years.

Getting the position of top honcho or geopolitical, economic and military power in the Asia-Pacific region carries the inherent greed for power to be THE world-recognized hegemon of the area, however temporary that position maybe—be it within the confines of the tribe, the community, the nation, the region or the world. For proofs, just review our world history from the caveman’s era to the present globalization age. Read the two world wars’ histories, particularly the aggressors’ actions during the pre-war years of both world wars.

So how must the Asean 10 deal with China and the other superpowers—the US, Russia and the European Union—to avoid/prevent the third world war (which everyone predicts will be almost totally destructive because of the nuclear weapons available, so there will actually be no winner at all)?

Experienced retired and active diplomats and security experts (I talked with but who prefer to remain unnamed for obvious personal reasons) agree that the Asean member states should deal with “China in active, positive diplomatic and constructive engagements” while keeping in mind “their own individual national interests”, but just quietly do whatever is necessary for themselves and the region’s unity and collective security.

Of course they refused to talk about the “individual national interests” of the Asean 10.

Contrary to other analysts and futurists who think that China will overtake the US and Russia as the world’s military and economic leaders, my interviewees believe otherwise—that the US dollar will grow stronger and block China’s economic climb to the top.

Indeed, it is prudent to closely monitor the coming policy statements of US President (in-waiting who will be sworn into office January 20th next year) Donald Trump and his cabinet concerning China, Taiwan, Asean, and Russia; the coming elections in Germany, France and Italy; the defense budgets of Japan and South Korea, and the developments in North Korea, Syria and Iran. These are just a few.

China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors, the social unrest among the western Chinese minorities and the Russian-Chinese border issues along the Amur River, my interviewees added, deserve watching too as these will affect—directly or otherwise—Asean-Chinese relations in this age of information and communication technology.

They point out that in terms of trade relations, China and Asean cannot ignore each other because Asean’s population is set to exceed the 700 million mark by 2050 while China will still have more than one billion people as its growth rate is expected to be drastically curbed by its industrialization efforts. Admittedly, these are huge consumer markets no exporting countries can overlook.

Asean member-states, while talking with China on bilateral bases, should not overlook trade and commercial opportunities in the British Commonwealth, a group of former colonies including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. Don’t forget Brazil, Russia and South Africa too. All these are potential consumers of Asean-manufactured food products.

China’s offer of infrastructure construction and financing through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) must be accepted because it will boost economic expansion of the 10 Asean member-states.

Specifically, it will enhance the manufacturing program—and eventually the region’s total INTEGRATION which the Chinese are now are blocking because it will work against Beijing’s national interests (within the next 10 years).

It is advisable for the Asean members to accept the Chinese offer of scholarships in different colleges and universities in China. Asean college students in China will, of course, be influenced by Chinese culture—which is what China wants to achieve. But it will also help Asean member-states understand Chinese foreign policy and thinking which will undoubtedly help the Asean 10 formulate their own foreign policy vis-à-vis Beijing.

It is advisable for Asean member-states to talk bilaterally with Beijing on the Chinese offer to aid our military and telecommunications buildup. Of course this is linked to their ambition to replace the US Air Force and Navy in the Pacific—if we just accept this blindly. Presumably, my interviewees add:

“The Asean members had been colonized by the British, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Americans and the Japanese before the second world war. So Asean members must learn from their pasts and assert their positive bargaining points on the diplomatic tables when it comes to 21st century negotiations with Beijing.”

What Asean members forgot, particularly the Philippines, in their economic negotiations with their former colonial masters, was the transfer of technologies to them as new trading and manufacturing partners of European, American and Japanese corporate entities.

Singapore and Malaysia were the first of the Asean 10 to insist on technology transfers when they were granted independence by the UK Thailand and Vietnam followed. The Philippines adopted the “import-substitute” alternative in the early 50’s where it imported the parts of any machinery and merely assembled them into finished products for export.

On top of it all, Asean must:

1. Aggressively continue institutional reform programs to maximize the reduction of corruption and increase government efficiency;

2. Pursue the production of energy from renewable resources;

3. Make the region the ideal foreign investors’ destination;

4. Encourage young scientists to invent new technologies to increase productivity and promote so its members can eventually;

5. Continuously improve the capabilities of its human resources with reduced education costs; and

6. Encourage biodiversity and environmental rehabilitation to guarantee sustainable development and eventually eradicate—or dramatically reduce, at least—extreme poverty.

A Merry Christmas Season and my best wishes to all in the coming 2017 and beyond for a prosperous Philippines!

(Send your reactions and comments to The author is a veteran correspondent for international wire services in Asia and the Pacific, and editor/publisher; teaches journalism and geopolitics in Lyceum of the Philippines University and president of the Philippine Futuristics Center).