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WEF ASEAN: Leaders call for rules-based order

Released at: 15:37, 13/09/2018

WEF ASEAN: Leaders call for rules-based order

Photo: WEF

Leaders reject unilateral, protectionist moves on closing day of World Economic Forum on ASEAN.

by Minh Do

With a rapidly oscillating geopolitical dynamic, underscored by escalating trade tensions between major powers, Asian leaders called for adherence to a “rules-based” order and rejected unilateral and protectionist moves on the closing day of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN (WEF ASEAN), on September 13 in Hanoi.
Rejecting nationalistic and protectionist trends that are resonating across the region, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh turned to Industry 4.0, the theme of the meeting, and cautioned that future growth must be inclusive otherwise disparity will become a geopolitical threat. “It is undeniable that the revolution offers tremendous opportunities, but if a country cannot seize the opportunities they may be left behind.”

“I think we need to establish a rules-based international order and the international community needs to stand up against any unilateral challenge to the status quo,” said Mr. Taro Kono, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs. The “collapse of multilateralism, stemming from the trade war” between the US and China, he reiterated, must follow the same principles and existing liberal international order.
ASEAN leaders and their counterparts from Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka echoed concerns over rising unilateralism with regard to rising trade tensions and territorial concerns in the East Sea, raising critical questions about the geopolitical implications of the global rebalancing.
“Looking at the geopolitics in Asia and the friction between the US and China, I am concerned about the rebalancing of the global order,” observed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe. “What will happen to multilateral law? What we have built up is multilateral law. Will that law be decayed, diminished or can it be strengthened?”
China’s territorial moves in the East Sea, commented Ms. Lynn Kuok, Associate Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore, will reveal what type of regulatory environment will prevail. “I will be watching developments in the East Sea,” she said. “China is consolidating its control over the region and resources. This matters because it will change the balance of power in the region and whether the balance of power in the region is governed by might or right.”
While there are clear regional fractures, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, Ms. Kang Kyung-Wha, pointed out that there are also moments of geopolitical alignment, such as current moves to advance denuclearization efforts on the Korean Peninsula, which look much more promising than they did a year ago.
“On US-China relations, if you look at just the trade side it does look tense, but I think these are two big players on the global stage with strategic calculations that sometimes diverge, but also at times converge. And I think on the North Korea nuclear issue, they have converged,” Ms. Kang said ahead of a third summit on the issue scheduled to be held in Pyongyang next week.

In addition to traditional geopolitical threats such as maritime security and freedom of navigation and trade, the Japanese foreign minister said that one of his biggest geopolitical concerns is catastrophic weather changes on the back of climate change.
“The biggest concern is probably climate change,” he said. “The sea water level is very high and we are getting stronger typhoons, stronger cyclones, and heavier rain. Once-in-a-hundred-year rain turns out to be once every two years. It is not just an environmental issue, but involves water supply management and food security. We really need to be serious about taking care of this issue.”

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