By Roy Mabasa
It is not about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ASEAN Joint Communique being weak or strong but how it precisely reflects the current situation in the region.
This was how Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano addressed criticisms that, after coming up with a carefully worded and diluted statement on the South China Sea dispute following the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, the regional grouping continues to issue ever-weaker statements of opposition.
Secretary Cayetano expressed his firm belief that the joint communique is a “balanced one” and that it “articulates as close as possible how ASEAN as a whole or some of its members feel
“It is a testament to our centrality, meaning, much of us compromised,” Cayetano told reporters in a press briefing after delivering a statement on the highlights of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings, and the ASEAN at 50 Grand Celebration at the International Media Center in Conrad Hotel Manila Tuesday.
According to the foreign affairs chief, those ASEAN member countries who wanted a stronger statement compromised to those who wanted a weaker one while those who wanted something weaker compromised with those who were seeking something stronger.
“Although I don’t think stronger or weaker is the right word, the point is how reflective is it of the current situation,” said Cayetano.
He admitted that the Philippines was one of those who opposed the inclusion of land reclamation in the disputed areas in the South China Sea in the joint communique because China is “no longer reclaiming land.”
“I did not want to include it,” Cayetano explained. “It was not reflective of the situation. And since there is already a general statement so I accepted it.”
He emphasized that whether land reclamation is there or not, the reality on the ground is that people have actually stopped reclaiming.
Cayetano said he is perplexed why it viewed that the Philippine government and ASEAN are giving in to China because in reality China has not stopped reclamation.
“This is not a battle or competition,” he stressed. “China is not our enemy. Our policy is: Friends to all, enemy to none. If you want us to take that attitude towards China, do you mean we should have an aggressive attitude towards Malaysia and Vietnam because they are also rivals?”
Cayetano said the Philippines and ASEAN are not for shaming dialogue partners, rivals and co-claimants but are for finding peaceful resolution to all of these.
He stressed however that this does not mean that the stand of the Philippine government has changed.
“It’s not about consistency, it’s about diplomatic language that will lead us to our goals,” said Cayetano. “I started with a zero draft but I did not shove it down the throat of anyone because I believe in ASEAN centrality.”
Tags: Alan Cayetano, ASEAN, ASEAN 50, ASEAN Joint Communique balanced a reflection of real situation in the region — Cayetano, DFA, Duterte administration, Foreign Affairs secretary, Joint Communique, Manila Bulletin