Kamala in Philippines as Asean takes center stage


ASEAN is taking center stage amid the US-China rivalry — both as an economic and now a recognizable political force.

World leaders travel to Asean for the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, G20 in Indonesia and APEC Summit in Thailand. President Marcos Jr. met Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the Asean Summit and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of APEC.

Asean countries are coming to be a middle ground between saber-rattling powers. President Biden met Xi at the sidelines of the G20 gathering in Bali. Asean has resisted US pressure to condemn Russia without taking into account NATO provocations.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is showing independent leadership, resisting Western pressures to isolate Moscow, inviting Ukraine President Zelenskyy as a guest observer. Last June, Jokowi became the first Asian leader to travel to both Kyiv and Moscow in an attempt to encourage dialogue between the two warring parties and relieve growing global pressure on food, energy and fertilizer supply.

The Philippine Department of National Defense and Department of Foreign Affairs are falling all over themselves offering the country as a base for operations for conflicts, to be operated under US legal military frameworks and control, at the expense of Filipino lives. All this in the face of BBM’s declared policy of being friends to all.

Whether there is reason based on an objective overall net risk-based assessment, for a US base here to defend the Philippines is debatable. But to have five, now being courted by Biden-Kamala to be increased to 10, means the Philippines will no longer be a sovereign nation. Even powers Germany and Japan clearly could no longer make even decisions based on their own people’s economic, or security interests with the US bases’ presence in them … proven by the energy and financial debacles, and the de-industrialization the two were forced to accept, to support a worldwide war due to the US’ insistence that Ukraine has to be allowed to be a NATO member.

Now after US visits by John McCain and Hillary Clinton that led to the Ukraine coups, bombings of Donbas, Ukraine wars and obstructions of peace agreements, Vice President Kamala Harris is about to visit the Philippines to propose more military and geopolitical arrangements that if accepted will make the Philippines necessarily even more of a central, and even possibly nuclear battleground, if the US insists on encouraging Taiwanese independence or provoking China on Xinjiang, which have nothing to do with us but will require the support of Philippine lives. This likelihood is recognized by top strategic analysts of different countries including from the US.

In contrast, in 2015, Singapore hosted the historic first meeting between the top leaders of both sides of the Taiwan Strait, Xi Jinping and then Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou. It was the first of such kind, since the end of Civil War hostilities in 1949. Singapore and Vietnam also hosted the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

One of the most stable and consistently growing regions amid a world in turmoil, and geographically right in the middle of the hotly contested Indo-Pacific, Asean is fast becoming the center of great power competition. Asean’s development today is heavily tied with the engagements not only with the great powers US and China, but also with regional and distant powers, such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Russia, India and Europe.

The main concern, however, of the Asean nations is the geopolitical contest between the US and China and the fear of being drawn in potential conflict between the two titans.

Compare the latest trade data of Asean with US against Asean with China:

China-Asean investments have crossed $340 billion across infrastructure, manufacturing, medicine, education, etc.

China-Asean trade was $880 billion (according to the Chinese government), which is almost three times of the US-Asean trade volume.

The Philippines’ position in all this? Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore alone accounted for 75 percent of trade between China and Asean. The two-way trade between the Philippines and China in 2021 was $38 billion compared with the $165 billion China had with Vietnam.

The room for Philippine growth is immense, but Filipinos and the government have to take more initiative to better compete with our neighbors.

Disturbingly, the US engagement with Asean is primarily focused on the military rather than economics. While paying lip service to Asean centrality, Washington’s initiatives like the Quad and Aukus actually create new political divisions — the US alliances’ primary goals are to pressure countries to take sides. They lead to dangerous arms races and add nuclear weapons stations that will stoke further tensions and raise the prospects for conflict.

Harris will visit the Philippines and make a side trip in Palawan, a coastal province on the edge of the South China Sea, which will immediately in itself be seen by China as a provocation. She will pitch for the implementation and expansion of EDCA bases.

China’s offers to Asean are more focused on economics and infrastructure from RCEP to the Belt and Road Initiative, investments and tech exchanges, and the Global Development Initiative (GDI). Many of the China-funded or -supported major projects are already improving the lives of people in Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines:

The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train, the first in Southeast Asia, will cut travel time between the two cities from 3 hours to 45 minutes. This project is expected to run next year as Indonesia hosts the rotating Asean chairmanship.

The Laos-China train turned a landlocked country into a land-linked hub, enabling goods between mainland Southeast Asia to enter China faster and cheaper and vice versa.

Chinese helped Cambodia build its first 190-kilometer expressway that links the capital Phnom Penh to the port of Sihanoukville in the Gulf of Thailand.

In Malaysia, the East Coast Rail Link project, which will connect the east and western coasts of peninsular the country, is China’s biggest project in the region, expected to be completed in 2026.

Last year, Vietnam opened its first metro line in Hanoi, a project delivered by China.

In the Philippines, China donated bridges in Metro Manila, and extended concessional loans for Southern Capital’s newest bridge, and a dam and irrigation project that’s been decades in the planning stage. These are on top of ongoing programs that helped double the digital infrastructure in a few years and trained hundreds of engineers. Three additional railway projects are under renegotiation.

Our officials have to consult true experts who have success records on actual implemented complex projects that require multidimensional, multifactor analysis, including financial, military, economic system, individual, and group behavioral, logistic, historical, evolutionary, among other analysis to help us arrive at the best decisions for the Filipino people. Anything less than that would be taken lightly and demonstrate weak competencies in serving our people’s most basic security and lives for generations.

This is a “decisive decade,” and the Philippines has botched things up before every time. Let’s get our acts together at this most crucial time.

similar version was published in Manila Times on November 20 2022. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (idsicenter@gmail.com)

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.