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Locsin: SE Asia should not be superpowers’ playing field

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has urged his counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to not let big powers make the region their playing field.

“Even in the pandemic, the tragedy of great power politics has gotten worse. The big powers keep trying to draw us to their respective ideas,” Locsin said during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Cambodia on Thursday.

“Our region should not be their playing field; it is our front yard. As we find ourselves in the center of trade and in the vortex of geopolitics, ASEAN Centrality fortifies our resolve to hedge against the disastrous consequences of heightening rivalry between great powers,” he added.

The ASEAN way, Locsin said, is the only way to keep the ASEAN community safe.

In his intervention, the secretary also underscored the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea, saying they provide legal clarity to all nations.

“These two landmark documents are not just beacons but the only coordinates pointing to a just and fair solution to disagreements,” he added.

Locsin also reiterated the Philippine position calling for the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

“The COC will not nor can it claim for itself the sea after which it is named. That would curtail the immemorial freedom of the seas and international law,” he said.

“We appreciate initiatives to finally advance the negotiations beyond the provisional approval of the Preamble. The 20th anniversary of the DOC (Declaration of Conduct) this year should be commemorated in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of UNCLOS,” he added, stressing that the two documents are fundamentally and inextricably linked.

Locsin also welcomed the proposed ASEAN-United States summit this year, saying the leaders’ engagement with President Joe Biden will further strengthen the strategic partnership between the US and the regional bloc.

“The Philippines advocates and supports the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to the United States for the most realistic and pragmatic of reasons: it remains, and in our view it will stay, the world’s leading force for the rule of law in international relations,” he added.

“As the way forward, the concept note provides a roadmap for initiatives and projects befitting the new era of ASEAN-US comprehensive and strategic partnership,” he added.

The secretary, however, rejected the proposal for a dialogue between the US Congress and ASEAN leaders, stressing that foreign policy is exclusive to the executive branch.

On the situation in Myanmar, Locsin welcomed the appointment of Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn as the new ASEAN chair’s special envoy on Myanmar.

He welcomed the commitment of Myanmar’s military regime to fulfill the five-point consensus earlier agreed upon by ASEAN leaders, stressing that the planned dialogue must include all parties and not just a select few.

“Most especially it must include Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. It should be a genuine dialogue and not a ventriloquist act,” he said.

“We welcome the junta’s undertaking to facilitate the visit of the special envoy to meet with all parties concerned – without conditions or presumptions, only what is clearly stated in the five-point consensus,” added Locsin.

The five-point consensus, approved during the ASEAN Leaders’ meeting in April 2021, called for the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and urged all parties to exercise utmost restraint.

It pushed for constructive dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in the interest of the people, with a special envoy appointed to facilitate the mediation of the dialogue process.

The military junta overthrew the democratically elected government and imprisoned key officials, including Suu Kyi and Myint.

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