Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Improving RP’s foreign/economic policy strength

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

THE Philippines has unsuccessfully attempted for a long time to find its position in the global community. Much of the thrust of this effort has been taken seriously by the West, in particular by the United States. The recent trip by the President to the US shows how impractical that effort can become.

The Philippines lost any potential influence with the US in 1991 with the Senate vote to cancel the bases agreement. I am not implying any judgment on that decision. It is simply a fact that when the Americans were told to leave, they also took any sort of influence or power that the Philippines may have wielded with the US.

Prior to President Arroyo’s US trip, headlines touted that terrorism would be high on the agenda. How foolish. Obama could not care any less about terrorism or internal conflicts in the Philippines. To say otherwise is to ignore his public statements and policy actions around the world. Were the Abu Sayyaf to march into Malacañang, there might even be some question about which side Obama would support.

The fact that President Arroyo was the first leader of a Southeast Asian nation to visit Obama perhaps says something about the opinion of the other leaders regarding the US’s perception of the region.

The local pundits that attempted to find some sort of hidden agenda in Obama’s statement that “the Philippines will be the coordinating country in the US relationship with Asean” is plain silly. To imply that Obama desires the oil that potentially lies in the disputed waters of the South China Sea is ridiculous. To get to that oil through the Philippines, the US would have to back the Philippines’ claim against China, and that is never going to happen.

Obama’s statement sounded more like a father preparing for a business trip, saying to his six-year-old son, “You’re the man of the house now.”

Granted, though, the Philippines has focused much of its attention on China. But I cannot shake the feeling that any relationship with China is a dance with the devil.

Read this from the Times of India, Manila, August 14 (Associated Press): “China rejects Philippine plans to extract oil from the Reed Bank in the disputed South China Sea as a violation of Chinese sovereignty, Beijing’s ambassador said today. Reed Bank is in the South China Sea but is closest to Palawan Island, which is uncontested Philippine territory.”

If China wants the Reed Bank and its potential oil, then the next China will be claiming is Boracay as its sovereign territory.

And look at the statement later from our dear friends, the Chinese. From Xinhua News Agency, August 14: “Insurgency battles, kidnappings and terrorism appearing now and then in the press hold back tens of thousands of potential Chinese tourists to the Philippines, China’s top envoy in Manila said Friday. Liu said ‘a sense of security’ was very important as Chinese tourists are bothered with media reports on violence in the Philippines.”

And what “media reports” is Ambassador Liu speaking of? Well, Xinhua News Agency is the official press agency of the Chinese government.

One way the Philippines could have created more influence is through the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean). As a founding member of Asean, along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, this could be the venue to place the region and, more important, the Philippines, in a more prominent position.

The purpose for Asean was to create stability and harmony among the members, as well as economic cooperation. After 40 years, little concrete has really been achieved. Asean did nothing in the dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines over the sovereignty of Sabah. The 1997 economic crisis saw it as a body sitting quietly on the sidelines as member-nations worked through their problems.

If you read the Fundamental Principles statement of Asean, you would think you were reading a statement from nations that had just been at war with each other. That is probably closer to the truth of Asean, since it was formed shortly after Singapore and Malaysia nearly went to war during the breakdown of the newly formed Malaysia. Indonesia and the former Federation of Malaya did go to war.

If you look at the last 10 years of Asean, nearly countless “road maps” have been developed for economic cooperation. Unfortunately, road maps do not necessarily lead to “roads.” For example, some sort of unified stock exchange or at least cross-border company listing and electronic trading has been talked about for years. And talked about endlessly with nothing being moved forward in a practical sense.

On the plus side, Asean has concluded fair-trade agreements with several nations, including China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India. But here again, each individual nation still must adhere and adapt to these agreements. Yet Asean itself has never achieved “open borders” between its member-nations.

Asean is like a ship without a captain. The Philippines could and should assume the predominant leadership role in Asean if it so desired. Then the rest of the world, and particularly the US, would give this nation the importance it needs in this new economic world. The Philippines cannot do it by itself. But the strength of Asean has the potential for success.

PSE stock-market information and technical-analysis tools were provided by CitisecOnline.com Inc. E-mail comments to mangun@email.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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