The Foreign Service Institute, in partnership with the Philippine National Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNACOM), organized the Mangrove Forum “The Impact of US-China Power Rivalry on ASEAN Institutionalization” on 25 May 2016 at the Carlos P. Romulo Library.
The guest speaker was Dr. Alice Ba, Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware. Former Senator and Secretary of National Defense Orlando Mercado served as the discussant for the forum.
The event sought to assess the current institutionalization of ASEAN in the context of great power competition in the region. The evolution of geopolitical realities, the tempest of globalization, the attainment of ASEAN’s aspiration to include all countries in Southeast Asia, and the need to intensify economic cooperation entailed further ASEAN institutionalization.
In her presentation, Dr. Ba addressed the question of how US-China rivalry impacts ASEAN institutionalization by examining the institutional dimension of Washington’s and Beijing’s engagements, specifically the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the “One Belt One Road” initiatives in Southeast Asia, and ASEAN as an institution. She argued that the question is how these initiatives can be used to serve ASEAN integrative agenda and geopolitical interest vis-à-vis bigger actors. Dr. Ba also suggested that ASEAN should scale back on its expectations regarding ASEAN centrality as it cannot solve the tensions and problems between the US and China, but it can facilitate how the tensions will play out in the region.
Dr. Mercado’s contention is whether ASEAN centrality is still relevant in serving the interest of ASEAN. The conditions have shifted in the region and ASEAN is operating in a different strategic environment which makes it more complicated. He emphasized that the current mechanism will not be able to cope with the changes, and lamentably observed that ASEAN may not be central anymore. ASEAN needs to start talking about the difficult issues and it is high time that ASEAN employs a more straightforward approach in dealing with China and the US.
Officials and staff of DFA and FSI, representatives from government agencies, and members of the diplomatic corps and the academe attended the forum.