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ASEAN must now talk less, act more on functional cooperation; prepare for more difficult times ahead—expert says

Professor Michael Yahuda, Emeritus Professor of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) spoke at a high-level seminar on Southeast Asia in an Era of International Uncertainty organized by Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation Inc. and Asian Politics & Policy Journal on May 2, 2017 at Astoria Greenbelt, Makati City.

Professor Yahuda highlighted the achievements of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), one of which was finding ways to dialogue with each other despite a disturbing beginning and serious differences among some members.

However, he weighed in saying that ASEAN has not developed as much as it should; that it should by now have a more visible physical presence, instead of focusing on statements.

On ASEAN-China relations, the International Relations professor argued, “The Chinese side has not invented divisions among ASEAN members. [Rather] They have taken advantage of the divisions that were already there.”

“Whatever problems [Southeast Asian countries] have with China will not get better in years ahead. What is needed is recognition that we have a certain amount of time to prepare ourselves,” he said.

He suggested for the organization to identify key functional issues where members can work together - such as fisheries, governance, and climate change—not only in diplomatic discussions but more importantly in operational terms.

Laying out the regional context, Professor Yahuda discussed the United States-China political and economic rivalry.

“That’s the only country [China] they [the US] compare their self with, the only country they worry about,” he said.

Moreover, he argued that Chinese power has already peaked, indicating the economic slowdown and demographic changes of the country.

The discussion that followed his remarks included the challenges that undermine US efforts to project its power and influence in Southeast asia, and the domestic social and political problems of China. With recent development in the Korean Peninsula, the participants also discussed China’s relations with North Korea; and how ASEAN can contribute to Pyongyang’s economy if and when it liberalizes and opens up trade to the rest of the world.

 

Former Ambassador to ASEAN Wilfrido Villacorta, Ambassador Claro Cristobal of the Foreign Service Institute, Dr. Gilbert Llanto of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, Asian Institute of Management professor Dr. Federico Macaranas, Charithie Joaquin of the National Defense College of the Philippines, De La Salle professor Dr. Renato de Castro, Angelica Mangahas of the Albert del Rosario Institute, and APPFI staff were among the RTD participants.

APPFI’s co-organizer for this event, Asian Politics & Policy is a refereed quarterly journal published since 2009 by Wiley-Blackwell and the Washington, D.C.-based Policy Studies Organization. APPFI President Aileen Baviera has also served as its editor-in-chief since 2011.

 Professor Yahuda was in Manila as part of a series of visits to the region, for research related to the publication of a fourth edition of his book The International Politics of the Asia-Pacific, published by Routledge.