DFA preparing strategic foreign policy outline for next president
Ahead of a crucial arbitration ruling on the Philippines’ case against China and next week’s elections, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is finalizing a strategic foreign policy strategy for the next president, which it hopes to complete immediately and submit to the next administration for consideration.
Foreign Undersecretary Enrique Manalo said the plan — a consolidation of recommendations from the DFA, its embassies and public stakeholders — will be “long-term” and centered on the existing foreign policy, but with “additional new elements.”
“We’re trying to help in preparing this foreign policy strategy to help whoever wins the election,” Manalo said Tuesday at a symposium called Strategic Foreign Policy Recommendation for the Next President held at the University of Asia and the Pacific in Pasig City.
Manalo said the DFA’s recommendation for the next president will be anchored on the three pillars of Philippine foreign policy: national security, economic diplomacy and assistance to nationals.
“In preparing our strategy, we are basing it on what has already been there and then we will probably have to build up on that depending on the issue,” he said.
The South China Sea disputes and a post-arbitration plan, according to Manalo, are included in the DFA’s recommendations.
“If there are necessities for adjustments of course we have to make adjustments depending on how the situations evolve. We also have to have some flexibility,” Manalo said.
“Whoever wins the election, we will see how they will take it on board,” Manalo said. “Embassies have given recommendations in their regions on what can be done, how we can promote Philippine interests in the coming year ahead, especially in priority areas.”
'Foreign policy challenges'
Relations between Manila and Beijing plunged to its lowest when the Philippines sought arbitration in January 2013.
A forthcoming ruling on the Philippines case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is a crucial factor in shaping the country’s foreign policy, particularly on China, analysts said.
Philippine officials said a ruling on Manila’s case that challenged the validity of China’s sprawling territorial claims in the resource-rich waters and sought to clarify the maritime entitlements of certain Chinese-occupied features under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is expected anytime this month or in June.
“When the Philippines ushers into the new administration, the new leader will face one of the most sensitive foreign policy challenges – how to manage the issues concerning the West Philippine Sea,” former Foreign Undersecretary and Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja said.
President Benigno S. Aquino III has pursued an increasingly tough approach to the South China Sea conflicts, which includes bolstering defense ties with long-time treaty ally, the United States, and with Japan and Australia amid increasingly aggressive actions by China in the waters also being claimed in part or in whole by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Recent Chinese unilateral actions, such as large-scale island-building, installation of surface to air missiles and plans to commence commercial flights in some of the contested features have heightened tensions and raised security concerns among states in the region, particularly the US.
Keeping the momentum
Baja believes that issues on territorial sovereignty, jurisdiction and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea will not be resolved overnight amid a favorable ruling on Manila’s case so it is important for the next President to have “specific plans or proposals which would be realized within six years.”
“These are generational issues but in the meantime we need to have specific projects within the timeframe of the next president,” Baja said.
Manalo, meanwhile, underscored the importance of building on and continuing the positive gains achieved by the Philippines, which continues to ascend and be considered as Asia’s bright spot.
However, he noted that keeping the momentum will entail “sustaining good governance, economic reforms, complemented by an active economic diplomacy.”
Under the Aquino administration, he said at least 205 economic agreements covering labor, trade, education and tourism and air services agreements have been signed.
As East Asia undergoes profound shifts in its strategic landscape, he warned that issues and challenges “if left unattended or unaddressed sufficiently could threaten the stability and peace and bring uncertainties to economic and security environment of the region.”
“Everyone agrees that sustainability and economic and social development hinders largely on the stability of our political and security environment and one particular challenge is...keeping a stable maritime order in the...South China or West Philippines Sea where disputes remain a source of regional friction and rising tensions,” he said.
Natural disasters, which are becoming more destructive, and other non-traditional threats, such as human trafficking, cybercrimes and other transnational crimes, are challenges which the Philippines is not immune to and must address, said Manalo.
While protection of the welfare and rights of around eight million Filipinos overseas remains a priority, Manalo said the DFA also supports the government’s economic vision of “an economically vibrant Philippines where finding work abroad will be a matter of choice and not a necessity.”
Continuing economic development, however, is underpinned by secure and stable nation and depends on the region’s ability to maintain peace and stability.
“For the Philippines, this means importance of maintaining a rules-based security regime that is anchored on international law and respects the rights of all nations great or small,” he said.
Manila’s arbitration case, Manalo explained, is not merely to advance Philippine strategic interests, but could have broader implications for regional security and help pave the way for a peaceful management and resolution of the South China Sea conflicts.
“The choices we have made in pursuing our foreign policy advocacies reflect the values that we hold as a people and as nation and our aspiration is to build a world that upholds the rule of law, respects human rights and human dignity, allows its people to live safely in prosperous societies. And these values will underpin our efforts in the ongoing strategic consultations at the department,” Manalo said. —ALG, GMA News
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