THE HONORABLE TEODORO L. LOCSIN, JR.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference Session with China
03 August 2021
Excellencies, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi,
Congratulations on the 100th anniversary of the most momentous event in modern Chinese history, the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. It is the most important event in the modern history of Asia and its future.
Let me begin with the self-evident: the quality and increasing extent of ASEAN-China relations merit elevation to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. As I said at Chongqing, geography alone argues for the elevation; reality demands it. China is or soon will be the world’s biggest economy. Its role is imperative for a global post-pandemic recovery. Its continuing success in containing and beating down the epidemic — albeit again and again, as the virus raises its head again and again in different if not deadlier and more infectious mutations. And this cannot be taken away from it when it comes to COVID response: China was the first on the scene with a manner of care and cure, the best measures of protection, and the smartest preventive strategies for containment and eradication. When critics of China said its vaccines are not as good, I asked: As compared to what? The Chinese vaccines were the first on the scene. Had many countries not made a grab for it, the death toll would be far greater. The extent might be the same; but the intensity of the infections far worse. Furthermore, no country would make a vaccine that is less than optimal considering the speed at which it had to be invented and widely deployed within China itself. No sane country, would invent less than the best vaccine it can and use them to convince others to use it to their hurt. That would be a weapon of mass stupidity. China has thus far shown itself as the most rational power in history. And in all this, China has never exhibited that hateful aspect of rising power: that it be at the expense of others for its own advancement. The first time we met, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked if I would consider signing a Memorandum on Belt and Road — whose revision by me he barely glanced at.
I said, “I will not consider it.” I paused then said, “instead I will sign it right here and now.” The basis was twofold: one, the chance to display total mutual trust so essential to going forward; and second that the BRI showed a new strategy for state enrichment: China would use its newfound wealth to make its natural neighbors finally progress and prosper, so it can progress and prosper even more by trading and investing in a rich neighborhood. Furthermore, the Belt and Road included the project to add to the old neighborhood those neglected in the past for being too far and inaccessible. China was intent on creating an international market ex nihilo, out of nothing. An American President envisioned in a better future of a rising tide raising all boats. China would not rely even on predictable tides to do that; it has opted to create its own rising tide of innovation and trade.
This commemoration of the 30th year anniversary of our relations gives us pause — not just to look back but look ahead, as through a glass clearly. How do we accelerate the momentum of the past three decades? We do so by ensuring that we continue to have a world viable for future generations of our peoples.
That means tackling the climate crisis, and protecting and preserving our environment including our seas, and keeping the peace ourselves on that water.
The climate crisis is here. We see it in the increased number and intensity of fires across forests and plains; heatwaves withering crops; droughts parching farmlands; alternatively: flash floods of uncommon scale; swallowing cities, wiping out decades of progress. Our planet is dying. If climate action does not measure up to what is needed, we all face the same fate of diminished existence or extinction altogether.
We therefore welcome China’s great leaps to scale up initiatives on renewable energy. An environmentally conscious and conscientious economic powerhouse benefits not just its neighbors but the world. Even in the realm of conflict, even the most aggressive powers have a consuming interest common with all the rest in preserving the earth — or they won’t even have a worthwhile battlefield. We welcome China’s long-term strategy to become carbon neutral and reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
Partnership on the blue economy should be explored seriously and sincerely. For a change. The Second Jakarta Forum should come to a common understanding and identification of the priorities of a blue economy; with the scant regard for the suspicions of rival powers.
A peaceful South China Sea is essential to its protection and sustainable management. Disputes in it should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS and in the recent light of the 2016 Arbitral Award which singles out no one, was carefully crafted as to be unusable as a weapon for disputation; and most helpful in clarifying maritime issues. The Scandinavian countries, I am told, invoke it. H.E. Vivian Balakrishnan has said all that needs to be said impartially on this issue.
As outgoing Country Coordinator for negotiations on the Code of Conduct, the Philippines tried to make as much progress on the COC negotiations as circumstances allowed. Soon we turn over the work to Myanmar. Speaking of whom, / we recognize that given its proximity to China, we hope for China’s initiative in restoring peace and freedom to that sad land.
We remain deeply concerned over developments in Myanmar. The Five-Point Consensus must be swiftly implemented. The Chair’s Special Envoy should be allowed to begin work so unhindered humanitarian assistance be provided. My own ambassador in Washington urged there that Myanmar not be excluded from vaccine assistance out of “humanitarian concerns”; that would be inhuman to do. There is no place for politics where so many lives are at stake.
For dialogue amongst involved parties to be effective, we call for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees and her foreign adviser. Constructive dialogue is what the Five-Point Consensus calls for; it can only happen when everyone concerned is at the table. Foremost — Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the body, soul and face of her people. ASEAN’s survival as a credible partner for all, including China, hinges on this. This finally is the test that all in ASEAN feared but we must face it. Can there be ASEAN centrality based on convenience rather than principle? Convenience by definition can never be principled. Thank you.