Time to improve PH's ties with Asian neighbors: analyst

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 12 2016 02:05 PM | Updated as of Jul 12 2016 02:39 PM

The Philippines must invest in stronger ties with other Asian nations, an analyst said on Monday, amid the impending resolution of the arbitration case against China filed by Manila to The Hague.

Karim Raslan, an ASEAN geo-politcal expert, told ANC's Headstart that it is "very unlikely" that the Philippines would get back the reefs China developed, or even receive compensation even if a favorable ruling comes out on Tuesday, pointing out that Beijing never acknowledged the proceedings.

Nevertheless, Philippines must learn to strengthen what it has at the moment, and equip itself for the future, which he said "will be much tougher."

Raslan said it is imperative that the country first determines its national interest in a sober manner.

"We must be much wiser, calmer in our decision-making, and we must look into how the other countries in the region have figured this out for themselves, " he said.

Hanoi, he noted, was successful in tapping other powers in the Asian region, like South Korea and Japan into investing in Vietnam.

"The Japanese are very straightforward [sic] businessmen, so are the South Koreans. If they agree to do a deal and invest, they will do it, the quality will be good. This is what the Vietnamese have discovered," he said.

He said this is why despite being located a few hundreds of kilometers away from the Chinese border, Vietnam "found a niche for themselves." The Philippines, he added, was not able to do this despite its close relations to America.

"I don’t think the Philippines has really used the Americans in a way. Why isn’t there more American investment here? Why is the Philippines merely focusing on the military engagement?," said Raslan.

"Why are you not saying, 'you are our friends, you are our treaty allies, why don’t you invest more here? And we will make it easier for you to do so," he said.

He also noted that in 2012, America's conviction and commitment as a superpower faltered when it failed to intervene in the Syrian war, even after it drew the line at the use of chemical warfare.

"If you’re going to be a superpower, you have to show resolve. Once you draw the line in the sand, you’ve got to defend it and [President Barack Obama] did not," he said.

Add this with the candidacy of Donald Trump, who he said may pull America into being "isolationist," Raslan emphasized that it is imperative for the Philippines to draw in its internal resources and "look for how we can strengthen the country."

ONE ASEAN?

Though former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and his team rallied for the ASEAN countries to unite and stand as one against China in the issue of the disputed areas, the group of nations never did.

Raslan said China "has been very smart diplomatically in ‘divide and rule’ within ASEAN," making it difficult to unite the different factions within.

Cambodia (previously Kampuchea) and Laos, he noted, can be said to be in the camp of China, while Vietnam and Philippines are slightly more independent from the Chinese.

Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, meanwhile, have their own national interest when dealing with the Chinese.

No matter the division, Raslan said ASEAN countries apart from Cambodia and Laos, who are economically dependent on China, must come together and speak as one.

"If we look for example at the military expenditure, the Philippine government spends, I think about 3.7, 4-billion on its military; the Indonesians about 7-billion. The Chinese spend 150-billion up to 200-billion expected within the next few years," he cited.

"How can we compete if we’re all divided? We must work together," he said.

However, the present administration cannot expect the ASEAN to simply come together because of the incoming ruling from The Hague, according to Raslan.

The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte should have gone around the ASEAN capitals and lobbied for a single voice from the organization.

"ASEAN is there, it’s like a kind of network, but you have to bring it together. We all acknowledge the Kampucheans and Laotians will not follow suit, but if you work with Vietnam, Indonesian, maybe there will be a consensus," he said.