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ASEAN at 55: Quiet diplomacy, steadfast work, and solidarity

After two years of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, a simple in-person ceremony marked the 55th founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta last Aug. 8.

With a population of 662 million and a combined Gross Domestic Product of $3.2 trillion, ASEAN constitutes the fifth largest economy in the world and is poised to rise even higher.

On Aug. 8, 1967, five leaders – the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – sat down together in the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok, Thailand and signed a document.

The five Foreign Ministers who signed the ASEAN Declaration – Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso R. Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand – would subsequently be recognized as the Founding Fathers of ASEAN that is widely recognized as being “probably the most successful inter-governmental organization in the developing world today.”

Two issues have emerged as thorns on ASEAN’s continuing quest for solidarity: the crafting of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and the imposition of military rule in Myanmar.

While the Philippines has secured a favorable ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague — and as other countries in the region reaffirm their rights arising from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) — China continues to assert itself by flexing its naval and military muscle in the disputed waters.

Last year, the ASEAN Five-Point Consensuswas forged, firmly opposing the military junta takeover in Myanmar that sidelined its erstwhile leader,Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi,and pushed back democratic reforms. Myanmar continues to be excluded from ASEAN leaders’ summits and sectoral meetings as the alliance awaits action by the military regime toward restoring democratic rule. Only last week, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights deplored the execution of four democracy activists in Myanmar.

In his keynote message at the ASEAN 55th anniversary observance last week,Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation PrakSokhonn, in his capacity as ASEAN chair, said: “It is the ASEAN centrality that is the primary driving force behind our substantive dialogue and cooperation with our external partners, particularly in the context of all ASEAN-led mechanisms.” He applauded ASEAN’s achievements in economic integration, digitalization, and cooperation with external partners.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo led the Philippines’ observance of the ASEAN milestone, citing gains in collective efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, and the entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) for the majority of ASEAN and all of the non-ASEAN signatories. Also cited was progress in moving towards a more equal and gender-fair region through the launching of the ASEAN Gender Mainstreaming Strategic Framework 2021-2025.

Secretary Manalo aptly summed up the core values that underline ASEAN’s coming of age as a major regional force: “Our success rests on our own unique approach — quiet strength and diplomacy, steadfast work, and a determined commitment to leave no one behind.”

Credit belongs to : www.mb.com.ph

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