H.E. TEODORO L. LOCSIN, JR.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
SPECIAL ASEAN-U.S. FOREIGN MINISTERS’ MEETING
14 July 2021, 0830 – 1000 H (Manila time)
We are a year and a half into the pandemic. Unlike typhoons, earthquakes, other natural disasters, there’s no predictable end to this pandemic.
The solution is vaccines. “Vaccinate until herd immunity.” But add to that — mask up, shield down, wash often, keep your distance — all the things you do if not vaccinated. The virus may mutate out of range of the available vaccines. COVID is a moving target and one that shoots scores more bullets than the two you fire at it between long intervals.
Within two months of the new administration, 200 million Americans were vaccinated; it is now over 300 million. Free for all democracy works. That’s the end of the autocratic argument. Autocracies, elected or imposed, are falling all over the place.
I’ve heard American apologies for over-ordering vaccines; but I thank America for it. If it hadn’t over-ordered there wouldn’t be the excess it is now giving away to governments that didn’t order enough or at all. Or, more sadly, didn’t have the means. In a face to face with the Australian development minister, he said Australia’s vaccine donations to the Pacific island states; I said that’s what we want to hear: help for small populations this pandemic can literally erase.
Part of this statement was written awhile back, like the part about our recovery depending on that of the US. It is more than that; our survival in this pandemic depends on the US. Even as post-pandemic recovery depends on US economic recovery now well under way; it equally depends on China’s recovery.
Win-win sounds cliché; no one loses, everyone wins; zero-sum is the general rule of the game. Not today. We all recover or none without the world’s two biggest most competitive economies.
We thank all countries that have helped us directly. The singling out is deeply appreciated. But the US stands out for its good taste. It has contributed tens of billions of dollars in cash and vaccines; not so much directly to particular countries, except for dire cases like India. But mostly indirectly through COVAX — the UN initiative that is redeeming the expense of its existence. America is reportedly hosting the production of vaccines Americans won’t take; clearly for the greater benefit of mankind.
President Joseph Biden, in the manner of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, announced that the U.S. will be an “arsenal for vaccines for the rest of the world” — which is to say, it will be the arsenal of humanity against its extinction. Biden supported the proposal of the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property protections on vaccines to enable and speed up their production worldwide. That shows the US is back to being what it was fondly remembered for: bragging — and then walking its talk. The America we grew up with.
We see more of that America in the US decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement. I spoke with Special Envoy John Kerry and agreed on the need to work together towards Glasgow, and remain steadfast towards the goal of net zero emissions.
Great powers may fight if they must, compete by all means; but rivals need not fight over everything and anything. There are things the fiercest opponents have an equal stake in preserving: our one and only Earth. There can’t even be a battlefield if there isn’t that – a sustainable earth.
On Myanmar, the Philippines upholds the Five-Point Consensus ASEAN reached in Jakarta: an end to the violence, constructive dialogue, designation of a Special ASEAN Envoy, provision of humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre, inspection visits to Myanmar by the Special ASEAN Envoy — be it single or multiple. And, unsaid but imperative, the restoration of the political status quo ante the coup. That means releasing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the rest of the elected opposition in jail. No way but that way. So far, nothing’s happened.
I turn to the South China Sea. Despite setbacks caused by COVID-19, the resumption of negotiations on the Code of Conduct is ongoing. As ASEAN-CHINA coordinator, we promised to deliver a much shorter and more digestible yet still comprehensive COC draft for second reading. I will turn over the coordinator role to Myanmar in two months.
Finally, we welcome the United States’ open support for the 2016 Arbitral Award. It is binding international law and the most authoritative application of UNCLOS on the maritime entitlements of features in the South China Sea. As such, it contributes to the rules-based order in ASEAN and benefits all the countries that use the vital artery that is the South China Sea. The rest is bluster.
We thank America for its reaffirmation with greater clarity of the protection to Philippine sovereignty by the Mutual Defense Treaty. In the Southeast Asian context, that translates to keeping the peace and maintaining stability without pointless distractions. Thank you.