Packed in for a semi-annual meeting of the Association of South-east Nations (ASEAN), Prime Minister Modi arrived in Manila on Monday.  Despite being outside the league of the said regional bloc, India along with ten dialogue partners was invited to deliberate extensively on matters afflicting the cultural, economic and geopolitical stability of the associated nations.

The theme for “ Partnering for Change, Engaging the World” by the Philippines recognized that the link up of Southeast Asia is strengthened when there are countries all over the globe to share mutual interests.

Besides leaders short-circuiting Trump’s awkward handshake and the Internet latching on to hilarious one-liners from the pageantry that had leaders clad in the traditional Barong Tagalong, there’s more than meets the eye.

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Let’s hit the bull’s eye with the issues that are the major talking points at the summit.

1. The South China Dispute

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The Philippines versus China Conflict began with Beijing’s dubious claims of the nine-dash line within Philippines’s 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  Manila’s sovereignty was infringed upon by Beijing’s activities such as illegal fishing, oil extraction and artificial construction of islands which are detrimental on environmental grounds.

After the tribunal at the PCA (Permanent Court Of Arbitration) ruled out China’s maritime claims, China stepped up it’s game by fortifying military outposts and expanding power projection through air combat patrols and island seizing drills. Beijing was unkind to US intrusive operations by confiscating a US drone off the waters of Philippines.

Although India employed a more conciliatory approach by standing neutral on the verdict of the tribunal,  China still demands a” Choice of the Sides” as a litmus test for mutual cooperation.

2. North Korea’s Missile Tests

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In contravention of the UNSC’s  (United Nations Security Council) resolutions, North Korea ‘s ballistic missile technologies including nuclear and chemical weapons of mass destructions pose a security threat to the nearby Southeast Asian countries. With a North Korean representative present at the ASEAN summit, resuming a dialogue to de-escalate tensions in the Korean Peninsula by asking them to comply with the regulations of UNSC and exercise self- restraint will unfold with the grave concern.

3. The Rohingya Crisis

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Human rights violations have been spurred in Myanmar with about 600,000 Rohingyas fleeing state persecution into refugee camps in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia or overpopulated ships off the coast of ASEAN countries. With the Buddhist majority Myanmar recognizing Rohingyas as illegal migrants, their plight has drawn outrage from around the world with Muslim Majority Malaysia voicing concerns and Aung San Suu Kyi not condemning the military operations.

This massive humanitarian crisis cannot be evaded especially when there are reports of Rohingyas falling victims to the human trafficking syndicates.

4. Economy, Trade, Business and Private Investments

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ASEAN is looking to ease trade between it’s member countries implementing policies common to an integrated economic community like the European Union.  By reducing barriers to trade, they are looking to improve the investment environment in the region by scaling up micro, medium, and small enterprises by giving them access to countries apart from their homeland.

5. Terrorism, Extremism, and Piracy

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India, Philippines, and Indonesia have had to deal with vicious acts of terrorism perpetrated on their soil. With threats knowing no boundaries, pirates, and terrorists have endangered security of the archipelagic countries by disrupting trade through sea lanes.

This common security threat will be addressed by the members of the ASEAN countries seeking a permanent solution to the relentless transgression.

6. Menace Of Illegal Drug Trade

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Although the controversial Philippine Drug War spearheaded by President Rodrigo Duterte is not open to discussion because of the bloc’s principle of non-interference in each other’s domestic issues, trafficking of illegal drugs and smuggling of persons or goods are transnational crimes which need regional or multinational approach. ASEAN countries will be exchanging views on progress made on this front with efforts made to seize the shipment of drugs or catch poachers who evade the law abiding the state.

7. Climate Change

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Even if Donald Trump believes Climate Change was created by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive, he really can’t circumvent the issue with the Climate Change Agenda edging towards sustainable developmentWith India and many ASEAN countries relying on Agrarian Economy, the climate is the primary factor fuelling development. 

Disasters like tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones necessitate joint efforts for recovery and rehabilitation. Warmer temperatures and rising sea levels are affecting the countries on a massive scale.

Before the matter snowballs into a cataclysmic casualty, it’s time to plug the loopholes and aspire for a green and sustainable economy.

(Image Credits From Google Images)


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