Ominous waves in a once-calm sea
"All problems in the region have been resolved through dialogue and negotiations constructively and productively."The Asia-Pacific region where ASEAN is centrally situated has been a scene of political quiet, harmony and peace as the focal nations of ASEAN and China focus their collective efforts on subduing the pandemic and attempting to prepare the ground for economic recovery. The past few months of 2021 the region have seen a resurgence of the COVID-19 scourge, although its most serious impact has gradually diminished and hopes of proceeding with economic recovery programs have gradually been rising. Out of left field came the announcement of a new security alliance emerging in the region that provoked concern and trepidation. Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have formed a new defense alliance called AUKUS with a nuclear submarines supply deal for Australia. ASEAN and China have handled the South China Sea issue exceedingly well that there has been no perceptible ripple felt the past two years, clearing the path forward to the Code of Conduct for the SCS. Ironically, countries outside the region are stirring turbulent waves and distraction in this quiet neighborhood. The project of ensuring the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region has been a subject of collaborative efforts of ASEAN for decades. It has drawn up a set of agreements that sets parameters for the region to insulate it from the corrosive and destructive threats that abound in our contemporary age and time. It is a timely moment to recall the ASEAN Declaration on a Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) signed in 1971 that sought to ensure the tranquility of the region, sovereign existence of all of its states, and non-alignment with any major global powers. The first major component of ZOPFAN was the establishment of the often-forgotten SEANWFZ. The Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone was conceived five decades ago and signed by the ASEAN governments in Bangkok on December 15, 1995. All the years of reflection and deliberations on peace by ASEAN’s wisest diplomats, experts and leaders are embodied in these pacts while assessing the current political developments. Cast against the backdrop of these ASEAN contracts, the nuclear facilities deal of the AUKUS should indeed raise concern not only over possible marine nuclear accidents that may occur but also the inevitable question of nuclear weapons that may or may not be carried along.
Herman Tiu Laurel is a writer, broadcast and online political-economic educator, and founder of Philippine-BRICS Strategic Studies — a think tank advocating global multilateralism and the creation of a multipolar geopolitical world.