Festering Economic & Cultural Ties

President Rodrigo Duterte, President of Philippines, along with the head of states of ASEAN member countries
UNITY. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) link arms in the iconic ASEAN way during the 30th ASEAN Summit Opening Ceremony at the Philippine International Convention Center on Saturday (April 29, 2017) From left are Malaysian Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak; State Counsellor for Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi; Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha; Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc; Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte; Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; Brunei Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah; Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen; Indonesian President Joko Widodo; and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith

MANILA: The 30th ASEAN Summit is being held in Philippines on 28-29 April this year. The ASEAN Summit is a meeting of South East Asian nations to develop economic and cultural relations between the member countries and also with partner countries. Reiterating its commitment towards the ASEAN motto “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”, Judy Taguiwalo, Secretary, Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), who also happens to be the head of ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), said “As host of the 2017 ASEAN, the Philippines wants to bring to the table issues and concerns that evolve around the necessity to promote
and protect the rights of migrant issues.”

The assertion to protect the right of migrants becomes more important in view of the constant harping of US president Donald Trump on this issue as well as the recent developments in Europe. Recognising the role of vulnerable sections in the developmental agenda of ASEAN, she emphasised that we need to address the rights of the “vulnerable sectors of women, children, persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons, farmers, workers, fisher folk.” We would be more relevant to the “lives of poor and ordinary citizens by highlighting issues that concern them, with the end goal to forge agreements to uphold their welfare and improve their quality of life.”

These aspects become more important in the changing economic scenario where Asia is going to be the growth engine of the world and where ASEAN has to play a major role as the 21st century is recognised as the Asia-Pacific Century by the world leaders. The role and relevance of ASEAN has grown manifold in the light of the ever-changing global condition and the amplifying impact of “Brexit.”

As a leader of ASEAN, Philippines has urged the member states to work for “the people, and make it an institution that is responsive to the welfare and social needs of citizens in the member-states, able to provide assistance and guidance when it can in furtherance of advocacies and actions that directly benefit the poor and vulnerable sectors.” Highlighting their own role as a leader, they want to “contribute to efforts to make the ASEAN more people-oriented and people-cantered.” In continuation of that they “hope to refer to livelihood programs that link with other manufacturing industries, businesses and trade that are locally available and are substantially important for the ASEAN Region.”

Adding to this enthusiasm is Philippine Postal Corp. which has launched a commemorative stamp celebrating the 50 years of ASEAN with the official logo and this year’s theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.”

But this engagement with the world would be on a strong footing only if ASEAN is able to tackle the human rights issues in its own backyard. In November 2016, a Malaysian minister asked to rethink on the continuing membership of Myanmar if the situation of Rohingya people and their treatment by Myanmar forces does not improve dramatically. Although Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi called meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers to solve the Rohingya crisis, a lot is needed to be done on the ground level.  The second major problem facing the ASEAN is growing assertion of China in East China Sea.

It will be interesting to see how the ASEAN 2017 charts out its course to tackle the  emerging situation in Asia-Pacific region while balancing the national interest of members with the common interest of ASEAN.