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With Due Respect

Aria: Use US policy to advance our interest

The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018 (Aria) of the United States (US) aims to develop, to quote its title, a “long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted, and principled US policy for the Indo-Pacific region…” that stretches from India to the West Coast of America.

Though it textually “committed” the US to our Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and similar pacts, Aria — as I humbly opined last Sunday — did not intend to be the US federal law to enforce the said treaties. However, it mandated the US Navy’s recent muscular maneuvers in the South China Sea (SCS) and the aggressive US blitzes on China and North Korea.

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We commanded less than 3 percent of Aria’s text. Nonetheless, I believe we can use the law to advance OUR national interest pursuant to the basic diplomatic norm that nations have no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

Written all over Aria is the US foreign policy to “promote American prosperity… [through] a rules-based Indo-Pacific economic community… reflecting the values of the American people and universal human rights…” It disclosed America’s “diplomatic strategy… to strengthen relationships with partners who… understand… civil society, the rule of law, the free flow of information… transparent governance… [and] free markets…”

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This diplomatic strategy encompassed “the peaceful resolution of disputes” backed up by a “strong military presence,” thereby confirming the old paradox that to preserve peace, one must be ready for war.

Aria warned that these “core tenets… are being challenged… by China’s illegal construction and militarization of artificial features in the (SCS)… [by] North Korea’s… nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities; and [by the] increased presence… of the Islamic State…”

Notably, Aria elevated America’s old soft relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) “to a strategic partnership…” and urged the Asean members to “develop a common approach to reaffirm the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration…” that upheld our rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

How can we use America’s phenomenal swing to our region to advance our national interest? To be sure, our national interest may temporarily shift from time to time and from leader to leader.

But to me, the enduring source of our national interest is our Constitution. It embodies our ideals and aspirations, our struggles and victories, our history and culture. Leaders and bosses, patriots and tyrants may come and go but our values endure. And the strains of our “Pambansang Awit” and “Bayan Ko” remain eternally etched in our psyche.

Our Constitution ordains these ideals and aspirations in its Declaration of Principles and Policies, Bill of Rights, and provisions on transparent governance, accountability, equitable distribution of wealth, social justice, and education.

Since the US policies proudly proclaimed in Aria are similar to our aspirations, we can align, in general, with the US in safeguarding them, unless the specific US action violates our Constitution and other national interests.

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“Might makes right” in international relations, wrote Ambassador Hermenegildo C. Cruz (Opinion, 3/4/20). The US is the mightiest military power on earth. Hence, along with our Asean brothers, let us take up Aria’s offer of “strategic partnership” to enforce our arbitral victory.

In fact, to justify its massive naval exercises in the SCS, the US is waving our victory. By so doing, America should be reminded that in drawing the redline in the Scarborough Shoal, it should not build its own military bases there or anywhere else in our country. Moreover, in upholding freedom of navigation, it should also remember to protect our natural resources in the WPS, and to join us in developing them without violating our 60/40 constitutionally-allowed sharing.

So, too, we need China, the new superpower that could soon overtake the US as the world’s top economy. How we can take advantage of China’s economic clout without being beguiled by the small prints in the grants and loans, and without antagonizing it, is our tough diplomatic hurdle.

China has magnificently risen from its sad history of exploitation by the greedy Western powers that colonized its wealthy Eastern seaboard. In dealing with us, may that bitter experience restrain it from becoming one of the greedy bullies it once hated.

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TAGS: ARIA, Artemio V. Panganiban, Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, PH-US relations, With Due Respect
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