“Solutions to the South China Sea disputes are not within reach. So our concern is to prevent them from escalating into armed confrontation. With or without the South China Sea issue, ASEAN and China will always be neighbors. We should hammer out a modus operandi that can withstand our differences and maintain stability”.
The Philippines takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2017 coinciding with its 50th anniversary. The end of the Cold War provided Southeast Asia peace dividends that saw the deepening of its agenda and broadening of its membership. The mood was so positive that a security forum for the Asia-Pacific (the ASEAN Regional Forum) was created. It took in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam as members. The decision to hold annual Summits came only then. On the economic front, the rise of China and India in the 1990s heightened economic competition in the region. The Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004 jolted an unprepared ASEAN. Within seven months, it adopted the Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response. Suggestions: 1) the Philippines should accelerate membership of East Timor into ASEAN. It is a democratic country in transition. It deserves support of like-minded states. 2) The international dialogue on the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) should continue. Rhoda Severino concludes that the greatest achievement of ASEAN has been the preservation of peace in the region. If we accept that, then we know our mission for the next 50 years: to preserve it and build on it. Economic and social development needs peace. The political community blueprint promotes democratic institutions in the region; a culture of peace; interfaith dialogue; humanitarian assistance in conflict; and counterterrorism cooperation. Southeast Asia must have confidence in itself: we should encourage the Major Powers to improve their relations for their own good and to eliminate complications for smaller states in our neighborhood. National sovereignty is not just a right but a responsibility. Failed states put themselves at risk but also their neighbours, as conduits for terrorists, drug traffickers, criminal networks or environmental hazards. They also indirectly threaten their neighbors if they allow themselves to be bulliedby countries with “imperial tendencies,” as Carl Bildt said thinking of Europe.