The Philippines is Asia’s first democracy. India is the world’s largest democracy. Both are therefore the standard-bearers for freedom and democracy in the region. The Philippines and India are natural allies, not only because they have a shared history of being colonized by two English-speaking nations, and therefore share that common language with aplomb, but both are Asian countries that are animated by vibrant democratic traditions based on republican ideals. Asia’s first democracy and Asia’s largest democracy are therefore surely headed for closer ties. (The Diplomatist, New Delhi – April 2013).
Were I to be asked to sum up in just one sentence the essence of my talk, I would state that: “With India finally throwing in its lot with East and Southeast Asia, the potential inheres within the region for the setting up of a security architecture that ensures security and tranquility for all countries”. Evidently the maritime dimension is the overwhelming dimension that will underpin the new security architecture. This becomes evident from the fact that the US and every country in the region that has sought closer defence cooperation with India first and foremost have been holding joint naval exercises with it.
I intend to leave out the new regional economic groupings that are taking shape like TPP and so on as these are subjects in themselves and would require a lot of time to discuss. Similarly, I will not touch on issues on which this audience would be exceptionally well-informed, unless these are required to supplement what I consider to be important inputs. By the same token I am not going to analyse force levels, acquisitions in the pipeline and several related issues that have been extensively debated at practically all for a and can be seen on the concerned websites. It however needs to be reiterated that the arms acquisitions and military build up in the region is perhaps the most massive accretion of arms for any set of adversaries since the end of the Cold War. History bears witness that more often than not excessive militarization leads to an irreversible momentum for the outbreak of hostilities, often triggered by a minor incident, as nearly happened on India’s border very recently. The thrust of my presentation today is that the potential inheres to restore and maintain stability in the region by the coming together of like-minded countries threatened by Chinese not-so-peaceful designs. The key to this stability would be the perception of friendly East and Southeast Asian countries that India is in for the long haul.
For the purposes of our analysis ASEAN can be split, the better term would be divided in to three blocks or categories: the first category being those suspicious of China, having disputes with China or those who feel threatened by China. The second category would be nations that can be considered to be allied to China. The third category or the largest are those countries that would prefer not to take sides as of now or remain neutral in spite of present disputes or difficulties:
It transpires that before today’s event I would have already delivered three keynote presentations on South China Sea (SCS) at international conclaves held in Hanoi in 2009, HCMC (formally Saigon) in 2010, and right here in Manila in July 2011 on the invitation of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the Foreign Service Institute of the Philippines government. [It gives me great pleasure to note that Minister Laura Q Del Rosario who was the head of the Foreign Service Institute when I was invited to Manila on the earlier occasion is present today among the audience. Minister, I am reassured by your presence].
I have divided the presentation into four segments that I have termed as: The China Factor; ASEAN; India: Balanced Multi-polarity Catalyst (the emphasis being on the word catalyst or call it energizer); the Environmental Factor; followed by Concluding Remarks. There is much else that could have been covered, but the time constraint necessitated selectivity. Whatever is left out can be covered in the interactive session that follows.
THE CHINA FACTOR
As is well known by now, with each ten-year change of Chinese top leadership the new leader gives out his vision looking into the future. President Xi Jinping has called his vision the China Dream. In earlier days it required seers to interpret the dreams of emperors and kings. In this case the successor emperor of the Middle Kingdom has himself started fleshing out his dream for the people of China and above all for the Party and the PLA. In China’s immediate neighborhood there are no illusions as to where the dream is leading. The attention of the audience is invited to the beginning of the presentation where the projected models for China’s growth were unveiled. Clearly, the model adopted by China corresponds to the Dynamic Expansion Model. What does this tell us?
For a long time the core interest of China for which it was ready to go to war was Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang (T, T & X). The world took note. Nobody dared question China’s core interest. Seeing the global acceptance of its T, T & X declaration, a few years later in 2005, China laid claim to the province of Arunachal Pradesh in the North East of India by calling it South Tibet. In 2009, China’s then state councilor Dai Bingguo elaborated on the notion of core interest: “maintenance of the Communist Party-led system: protection of state sovereignty and territorial integrity; and development of the economy and society”. The following year, in 2010, China proclaimed to the world that its core interest included sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and reefs covering approximately 3.5 million square km. Not pausing for breath, in the year following in 2011, China announced that the Japan occupied Senkaku islands too were part of its core interest.
Again without pausing, elements of the Chinese navy sailed 1,800 km away from the mainland to drop anchor at the James Shoal, an outcrop barely 80 kilometers from Malaysia, claimed by the latter. More recently China sailed a cruise ship with 300 hundred tourists to the Paracel islands claimed by Vietnam to reinforce its sovereignty claim.
Across its land borders as well China has been robustly projecting its dream. Concerned that Myanmar was breaking away and moving far too rapidly towards the U.S, Japan and India, it decided to nudge the Myanmar government by supplying arms to Wa insurgents. Moving further West China decided to give a bigger nudge to India by sending its patrol across the LAC that had held since 1962 up to a depth of 19 km in a sub sector of great strategic sensitivity for the Indian military in Ladakh.
The momentum generated by its outward expansionary push is going to be maintained for the Dynamic Expansion Model posits that once set in motion irreversibility is built into it till the final explosion. In galactic space the expansion phase before the explosion can take several billion years. On Earth in the 21st Century, it could be several decades or even longer before the decline sets in or the explosion occurs.. What does it imply for the relatively smaller countries of ASEAN and at a later stage Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia? Gradually they will succumb to Chinese hegemony that for a time will bring greater economic prosperity, concomitant with the loss of independent decision making. Lee Kuan Yew, the respected elder statesman of Singapore has said that Chinese leaders recognize they can’t confront the U.S. military until they have overtaken it in terms of development and application of technology. Nonetheless, he says he is sure they aspire to displace the U.S. as the leading power in Asia. “The 21st century will be a contest for supremacy in the Pacific because that is where the growth will be,” Mr. Lee was quoted as saying in a recently published book. “If the U.S. does not hold its ground in the Pacific, it cannot be a world leader.” Unquote.
The Chinese leadership is flexing its muscles in every direction from the East and South China Seas all the way to the border with India in the Himalayas. While designed to be a show of strength of China’s military capabilities, examined closely it hides a fundamental vulnerability?
Looking into China’s internal situation it can be discerned that all is not well within the country. The various difficulties that face the CCP internally have been highlighted by China watchers around the world. What has not been sufficiently brought into the public domain – within China and outside China - is the fact that the top leadership in Beijing is painfully aware that whatever public face of unity they put out, the government as presently constituted lacks legitimacy. Perhaps elaboration would be in order in making a far-reaching assertion of this nature.
Leaving aside tin pot dictatorships there would be no country in the world whose budget for internal security is higher than its defence budget. Further, if a tally were to be made of all the agencies in addition to the PAP the total strength of the internal security apparatus would be seen to be more than the strength of the PLA; all this when no country threatens China or is in a position to do so.
It is seen that the number of agitations, demonstrations, and large-scale protests against the government at various levels have been growing with each passing year. In the year that has gone by these protests are said to have reached a figure of 180,000, in spite of the massive internal security apparatus deployed all over the country. The figure relates to mainland China and does not include the occupied (amalgamated) territories of Tibet and Xinjiang. Nor does it include innumerable individual protestors that the government incarcerates every year.
While it would be both incorrect and premature to infer that the hold of the CCP is anyway threatened for the time being, it does raise the specter of the lack of legitimacy that the Beijing leadership cannot gloss over.
Coming now to the periphery or the occupied territories of Tibet and Xinjiang that in geographical spread constitute more than 60% of China’s area, it becomes apparent that in spite of over 60 years of Chinese rule the unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang continues to grow. Despite the massive military presence, omniscient state security apparatus and demographic swamping by Han Chinese that has taken place the Chinese leadership can hardly claim before the world that these populations whose lands had been taken over by force of arms are reconciled to Chinese rule.
This was the external perception relating to Tibet and Xinjiang after being incorporated over six decades ago into the People’s Republic of China with constitutional guarantees for their autonomy. But what about the people of China, the Han people who constitute over 90% of the population within China? How has the Chinese government been able to perpetuate the myth for internal consumption that incorporated minorities are living happily under Chinese rule?
In sum, the emerging super power, the economic and militarily strong Peoples Republic of China is potentially in deep trouble on account of lack of governance legitimacy. The camouflage over the actual conditions obtaining in occupied territories notwithstanding to what extent the continuing protests and brutal suppression on the periphery, ostensibly hidden from the people on the mainland, are subconsciously underpinning internal unrest is difficult to gauge. Only insiders of the system would know whether the internal unrest in mainland China gives hope to the unrest on the periphery. Whatever be the case, this degree of dissatisfaction does constitute lack of governing legitimacy. In the years to come it could become the greatest vulnerability of the CCP governance model in China.
What is more, and now a very important statement is being made, the suppression of internal dissent within China by the state security apparatus and in the occupied territories by the state security apparatus and the PLA is leading to an internal power shift in favour of the PLA at the cost of the Party leadership in Beijing. For the world it is an uncomfortable development as in the years ahead the PLA could have a major say in shaping the government’s foreign policy. In fact this may already be the case.
[The Chinese leadership, physically absolute master of its territory, not facing any external threat is yet paranoid about the Dalai Lama who does not have even one soldier under his command. His very being however has created such paranoia in the highest rungs of the Chinese leadership since he fled to India over 50 years ago that it remains in perpetual agitation every time that the Dalai Lama utters a word or visits any country. The contradiction is evidently lost on the Chinese leaders who are busy setting up Confucius Centers all over the world to project China’s soft power and civilization heritage. It becomes the clearest indication that the Chinese leaders without realizing it unwittingly acknowledge to the world, and in a manner of speaking to the people of the occupied territories and their own citizens that they lack governance legitimacy.
Stabilisation in Tibet remains the centre piece of China’s policy on its periphery. In spite of massive investments large numbers of Tibetans remain disaffected. No country in the world recognises Tibet as being disputed territory. Yet the Chinese constantly seek reassurance from New Delhi about its intentions. In spite of the massive growth of Chinese power, their insecurities remain high. In great measure, they are due to Beijing’s own heavy-handed policies. Beijing seeks to deflect the blame of its own shortcomings on outsiders. To round off the small digression on the vulnerability of China it needs to be made clear to its leaders that the countries whom they have been threatening have to date not thought fit to exploit China’s vulnerabilities. This could change should the Chinese government persist with their aggressive posture or designs].
[Countries around China are wondering what to make of the latest Chinese white paper on defense that for the first time in many years omits the promise that China will never be the first to use nuclear weapons. That explicit pledge had been assumed by the rest of the world to be the cornerstone of Beijing’s stated nuclear policy for the last 50 years. The latest white paper introduces ambiguity when it endorses the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack but does not rule out first use or other uses. The question then arises as to whether China is changing its position on nuclear weapons. The doubt so created cannot be dismissed out of hand because the latest white paper coincides with China’s assertions in the South China Sea and with India on its borders. Explanations by Chinese generals cannot remove the doubt that has been created. What is more the latest Chinese position could well turn out to be the trigger that induces other regional powers intimidated by China to fashion or start reassessing their own nuclear type responses. Moreover the nuclear debate has already been renewed by the latest actions in this field by North Korea].
If the Chinese Dream as it unfolds is read in conjunction with the latest Chinese White Paper there is no doubt that it would make China’s neighbours even more wary. Were the Chinese leadership to change direction and profess peace with their neighbors the lowering of guard by the latter simply cannot take place. The White Paper spells out the missions of the PLA in no uncertain terms. National resurgence in any country that treads on the aspirations of its neighbors will always remain a matter of concern for the smaller countries of the region and leave them with no choice but to form defensive alliances for their own security. China should take note that Japan besides India has commenced overtures to Russia realizing that the US commitment or even capabilities might decline in times to come. Japan and Russia are seriously exploring the possibility of settling their territorial dispute.
The world is aware of the decline in the US military budget in the years ahead. However, it needs to be kept in mind that China’s halcyon days of unprecedented double digit growth are definitely over. Even high single digit growth might not continue for long. By extension it will have a corresponding effect on its defence budget and military spending that cannot be sustained at the present rate for long.
Disturbing Geopolitical Trends for ASEAN
It is generally taken for granted in ASEAN and East Asia that Australia being equally apprehensive of China’s growing power shares their concern and will stay the course. Many would say that Australia is perhaps the lead nation that has been carrying out joint naval exercises with the U.S, Japan and India for improving inter-operability among them. Whence the feeling that has begun to surface in many quarters that something might go wrong in the coming years? In the case of Australia it can be shown that some leaders feel that their country’s relations with China should be put on a more solid footing; a few going so far as to say that Australia need not put all its eggs in the U.S basket. This trend can no longer be dismissed out of hand. A few examples will suffice. In the first case it appears that a decision has been taken by the Australian government to invest 5% of their foreign exchange reserves in Chinese bonds. Besides helping to strengthen the renminbi, it indicates a deeper engagement with China. Another example concerns security issues. China has become Australia’s top trading partner, ahead of Japan, the US and South Korea. Many Australians feel that any policy that aims at containing China’s military growth would not work. Australia it is felt can balance its defense ties to the US while backing China’s emerging military strength.
Evidently, no radical departure from existing alliances or agreements, expressed or understood to be so, is going to take place in a hurry; yet it would be prudent for ASEAN and its potential backers to be alive to the way the wind has started blowing.
It is not inconceivable that at some point of time the US either finds it difficult to maintain its current military posture in the Asia-Pacific or is obliged to arrive at an accommodation with China. The EU would follow suit almost immediately. Hence it would be in the fitness of things for India, being itself troubled by China, to take the lead to integrate more closely with ASEAN and East Asian countries to build up a defensive network that would be able to take the slack for a subsequent pull back by the US, EU and Australia, should it ever take place.
INDIA: BALANCED MULTIPOLARITY CATALYST
There appears to be unbelievable convergence or uniformity of views regarding an enhanced Indian presence in the region. Excluding China there are around fifteen countries in South and East Asia, including Australia, Taiwan, and North Korea. Although technically Australia and New Zealand do not form part of South East or East Asia; their economic and physical presence allows their integration in the region. If one were to take free soundings from the public in every country mentioned, it will be seen that none of them would be averse to an Indian presence in the region; not one, not even the few countries that are considered close to China or under China’s tutelage. Going a step further, not one government from these countries would be uncomfortable with an Indian presence if left to itself, or if it were not obliged to look over its shoulder for China’s lack of approbation. Coming to think of it, this could indeed be one of the most remarkable achievements of the soft power of any country in the world as far the region under discussion is concerned..
To make any meaningful contribution to the security and tranquility of the region India will have to carve out its space as part of its ‘look east policy’. In doing so two different avenues open up for India. The first that beckons temptingly would be to join the US and Australia in a trilateral naval framework; the other approach would be to independently link up with the navies of ASEAN and East Asian countries to maintain freedom of navigation as an international commitment rather than as a defence pact to counter China. Of course, the two avenues are not mutually exclusive and the degree to which these become more interactive would depend on China’s actions.
Going purely by the hesitation of the Indian government in recent years, to conclude that India can be jostled by its adversary or adversaries would be a mistake. India has the geographical size, burgeoning young demographic mass and should it choose to push in that direction the military might to more than hold its own. Moreover, the current financial downturn - due largely to fetters that a democratic system with an exceptionally vibrant media and independent judiciary can put on government decision-making – should soon be reversed leading to a continuous annual growth of between 7 and 8 percent. Whatever the current predicament, the resilience of India’s democracy remains its essential strength. Seeing its size and potential it would be evident that although India has been generally punching below its weight in the region it is no lightweight. For outsiders and frustratingly even for India’s strategic community within the country, India is seen to be tentative and indecisive.
Call it Action, reaction. A few weeks ago China overplayed its hand against India in the Ladakh Region. A beleaguered Indian government that is facing internal difficulties did not wish to take on the Chinese in the game of real politic and decided to defuse the crisis in a manner that the Chinese leadership did not lose face in pulling back its troops that had come in over 10 miles into Indian territory. The consequences of that Pyrrhic victory are now being faced by China. India had been hesitating to enter into full-fledged defence agreements, notably with Vietnam and Japan. China would be ruing its misadventure in the Himalayas. What it feared most has come to pass. The final push to make India shed its hesitation was given by China.
The net result has been the historic multi-faceted India-Japan agreement entered into between the two countries at the end of May 2013. The agreement was a warning to Beijing and a signal to the rest of Asia and the world. While in Tokyo, Dr Manmohan Singh the Indian Prime Minister spoke of Japan as a natural and indispensable partner in India’s quest for stability and peace in Asia. Beijing appears to be worried that Tokyo and New Delhi could be working towards establishing a new architecture for Asian security. The coming together of Japan and India could have regional as well as global impact. Shedding his usual cautionary approach the Indian Prime Minister warned against continuous threats in the Indo-Pacific region. Observers feel that in drawing a link of seamless unity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the two countries were sending a signal to neighbours who might be threatened by China’s aggressive behavior. The signal could be that Japan and India were in the process of setting themselves up as the linchpin of a new security system that over a period of time could attract Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea and Myanmar. Australia and Indonesia would also be viewing it with favour. The US had been pushing India in this direction as part of its rebalancing strategy. After the US used the term Indo-Pacific, Australia and Japan have embraced it.
Military ties that have developed between Japan and India can be termed exceptional because to date India has not developed strategic relationships to the same extent with any other country and certainly not in this century. The mutual defence pact that India entered into with the Soviet Union belongs to another era, long since consigned to the pages of history. Deepening Japan-India military relations could have far-reaching import for Asia. Since the US and Japan already have a mutual defence agreement, the US would like to support a Japan-India coalition. India would still shy away from a formal tripartite agreement between the three countries. Japan sees India as a great balancer against China’s rising influence and a trustworthy partner in the filling of the strategic vacuum created by declining US military resources, especially in the Indian Ocean. A Japanese researcher, Dr Satoru Nagao writing for an Indian journal (USI Journal – January-March 2013) spoke of the need to locate where exactly: the theatre of the “power game” between the US and China would be. Taking off from there, it can be reasonably inferred that the South China Sea and East China Sea can be deemed to be the most important theatre of power play for not only China and the US but for all the countries of the region including India, Australia and Russia. Evidently, in this scenario comprehensive maritime power will be the decisive factor leading toward research and development of sea denial and access capabilities amongst the adversaries. While the US has been playing the role of security provider since long, it would be in the fitness of things for regional countries to amalgamate their resources for purely defensive regional security architecture. Several variations can be worked into the model to make it flexible and operational. Naturally India will have to be the prime mover towards this end.
The beginning of the second decade of the 21st century overturned long held beliefs of India and the countries of East Asia, Australia, U.S.A and ASEAN. The twin factors leading to the turnabout were the increase in China’s naval potential linked to sea denial capabilities and the floating of an indigenously developed aircraft carrier. Along with this manifestly rising naval power China felt that the time had come to test the water – figuratively and literally - with the declaration that its core interest besides Tibet and Taiwan included the South China Sea. It seemed to be willing to force respect for its 9-dash line, irrespective of whether it impinged on the EEZ or claims of other countries.
Having taken note of China’s emergence as a naval power to be reckoned with, India decided that its commercial and maritime interests lay in its becoming a significant maritime player in the region to its East. Towards this end it too has been making rapid strides in the augmentation of its naval and missile capabilities that are of far greater interest to its friends in ASEAN and East Asia than its capabilities along its land frontiers. India is not neglecting the latter capabilities either. On 28th March 2013 India successfully carried out the maiden test firing of the over 290 km range submarine-launched version of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in the Bay of Bengal, becoming the first country in the world to have this capability. This is the first test firing of an underwater supersonic cruise missile anywhere in the world. BrahMos Missile is reportedly fully ready to be fitted in submarines in vertical launch configuration which will make the platform one of the most powerful weapon platforms in the world. There is cautious talk in some strategic circles that were India to provide the BrahMos missile to Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines it has the potential to become a game changer.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL FACTOR
Well before 2020 climate change, global warming and ecological degradation factors, collectively being put under the heading ‘Environmental Factor’ could overwhelm China and all countries around the disputed area. China already faces severe problems posed by rampant desertification, polluted rivers and depleted ground water reserves. By 2020, China will have 130 million cars; by 2040, even more cars than the United States. Taking into account that China obtains 70 per cent of its energy needs from coal and that it typically uses six to seven times more energy to produce a dollar of output than do developed economies, the extent of the calamity that may engulf China and, by extension, the world becomes clear. According to China’s own official estimates, the effects of chronic pollution, large-scale damming, and climate change have combined to make for a situation where 70 percent of the country’s rivers and lakes are polluted to some degree, with 28 percent being too polluted even for irrigation or industrial use. A recent World Bank report estimates the health costs related to outdoor air pollution in urban China in 2003 to be between 157 billion Yuan ($21 billion) and 520 billion Yuan ($69 billion) – depending on the method of calculation used. This means 1.2 to 3.8 per cent of GDP. Faced with this critical situation, the Chinese government has little choice but to start taking serious measures to counteract and slow down environmental degradation even if it means putting the brakes on economic growth.
Taking off from there and seeing that Tibet is the water tower not only for South and Southeast Asian countries as well as for parts of some Central Asian regions it is likely that after the 2014 elections the government of India might hold a conference in New Delhi for the affected countries that comprise over 40 percent of the global population depending on the river systems originating in Tibet. The conference would call for a multilateral Joint Rivers Commission that China has not conceded to date bilaterally with any country. Concomitantly moves are afoot to have Tibet known as the Roof of the World to be declared as the Third Pole on the lines of the Arctic and the Antarctic. A few months ago the President of Iceland a country far removed from the region at a talk delivered in New Delhi included the Himalayas as part of what he called the AHA Moment (Arctic, Himalayas, Antarctic) as vital regions for addressing the global warming and climate change that is fast overtaking the world. When he made his proposal the carbon content in the atmosphere had not yet crossed the dreaded 400 PPM mark. Hence the urgency for China to open up Tibet that has been ecologically devastated in the earlier stages of Chinese occupation and militarization to world bodies for better coordination and addressing of pressing planetary concerns.
In India there is great anxiety over the reported diversion of the Brahmaputra waters by China, which is constructing several dams over most, if not all rivers flowing into the countries of South and South East Asia from the Tibetan Plateau. Like the irreversible damage that has occurred in the Three Gorges dam (now that the dam is in place, apparently no amount of money can fix the problem) in the post-Fukushima era, one can hope that governments would far more carefully study the geology around the mega projects that China seems to be bent upon going ahead with, unmindful of the consequences for the countries through which these rivers flow to the sea, seriously affecting the deltaic regions where population density is the highest. Such has been the case with the Indus River delta in Pakistan. These 'irreversible' actions should trigger fresh research into the most seismic region on the planet, the Tibetan plateau.
From the passing allusions to the environmental imperilment mentioned above it should become evident that unless China, ASEAN, India and the other countries on the periphery collectively come together to save the region from further environmental decline, seemingly important, but relatively insignificant disputes like the South China Sea stand off between China and several ASEAN countries or border disputes could soon become minor blips against the approaching cataclysms that could soon engulf all countries.
With the phenomenal militarization of the region, in as little as 20 years from now the ecological regime of the East and South China Seas would have been irreversibly destroyed, leaving large tracts of the seas practically azoic without fish or any other type of life forms. Therefore, while there is time to do so, it is necessary to take example from the ecological destruction of large parts of the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas and mainland China itself. Hence the coming together for resolving the South and East China Sea disputes becomes the existential imperative of the day. As mentioned in earlier presentations by the author at South China Sea conclaves the time may have come to demilitarize the Paracels and Spratlys and other reefs and atolls. These should be declared as the common heritage of future generations. A special intraregional body of experts can be set up at the earliest under the aegis of the UNEP to prepare a phased blueprint for arriving at the desired goal by 2020. Meanwhile, even if China were to be reluctant to come on board, remainder countries of the region involved in the disputes could hold special sessions of their parliaments to approve the proposal in principle followed by referenda of their populations for the purpose, thereby creating an irreversible momentum for the creation of the East and South China Seas Ecological Heritage Zone for the coming generations. The Philippines government could take the lead in this matter. It will set a precedent for the whole world. Naturally, in passing the resolution the Philippines government does not give up its rights till all disputants including China come on board.
Within the lifetime of the present generation or probably the next, sea-level rise will threaten all coastal habitations that from time immemorial have nurtured the densest human settlements. It used to be said that time is running out for the inhabitants of the planet. For those who can look ahead, time has already run out. If the leaders of countries involved in petty squabbles, when measured against the major survival threats, are unable to settle their differences amicably, civil societies in these countries must come together to enlarge the dialogue to ward off the common dangers in the borrowed time that might still remain. In sum the environmental imperative dwarfs all other considerations that govern relations between countries.
The aim of India’s closer interaction with ASEAN and friendly nations in East Asia is not to contain China, but to restrain it from dreaming its new-fangled dream in a manner that conflict breaks out in the region. The resultant damage to the countries involved and the region as a whole from a conflict that should it get out of control would be enormous, actually prohibitive. In worst case scenarios it could spell the end of the Asian Century whose principal beneficiary to date has been China. Increased trade that has spelled prosperity for many countries and raised tens, if not hundreds of millions out of poverty would be jeopardized. .
China and India are both poised for growth that could project them in the front ranks of the world in as little as twenty years. This could only happen if the massive outlays on defence budgets led by China, triggering in turn higher military spending by India and other countries in the region, are drastically reduced and instead confidence building measures commenced between China and ASEAN, China and Japan, China and Vietnam and China and India. In every case the ‘pivot’ (eschewing the negative connotation of the term) or central driver for the collective project of stabilizing and strengthening the Asian Century becomes China. As the harbinger of peace and prosperity China effortlessly and seamlessly will come into its own as the Middle Kingdom of yore. None of its neighbours, once assured that its peaceful rise can never be transformed into anything other than peaceful, would begrudge China its role as the brightest star in the Asian firmament, a prelude to greater glory at the global level by the mid-21st century.
Statement of Hon. Albert F del Rosario on the occasion of the unveiling of the Commemorative Stamp on the 30th Anniversary of the Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes
General Carlos P Romulo, one of the original signatories to the United Nations Charter and fourth President of the General Assembly, once remarked, “Let us make this floor the last battlefield,” when referring to the United Nations General Assembly. It was his fervent hope after surviving the carnage of World War II that disputes would be settled on the floor of the United Nations with statements and not bombs, through tacit diplomacy instead of force of arms. His hopes were dashed when three decades into the existence of the organization, conflicts continued to rage in various parts of the world.
It is up to us to revive General Romulo’s dream in the second decade of the new century.