I was late for dinner

The last meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement or NAM for the Ministerial Meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan was a last run-through to present a clean draft document in Baku. There would be a call for a last — no, not vote but — attempt at consensus to adopt various statements. Or not.

Before we could start, the chair, Venezuela, announced that it had received several proposals to add marginal groups as Observers at the Baku meeting. That was fine. But Venezuela added that if the proposals failed to attain consensus at the meeting—“nay” from two or more was sufficient to exclude it—the matter could still be taken up in Baku. Morocco objected on procedural grounds, not least that NAM is composed of state parties; Saudi Arabia concurred. Cuba argued the contrary followed by others arguing the same. Both sides had a point. I objected on the ground of “surprise.” If the matter of including marginal groups as Observers could be taken up at the last minute in Baku, that might take the attending foreign ministers by surprise. On top of which, and this I thought was crucial, some NAM countries are in crisis and on the verge of social, political and economic collapse. Would their foreign ministers want to confront their political oppositions in a formal capacity at Baku? I think the proposal died.

The Philippine interest was twofold:

One: the previous failure—due to a mostly African objection—to include Asean updates of the old NAM paragraph on the South China Sea in the light of recent developments such as our legal victory at the Hague which is now international law and a piece of national patrimony that no one can compromise without provoking “the Armed Forces is the protector of the state” clause a la Turkey. A brilliant provision in Cory’s Constitution that sets up a military shield when elected politicians betray the state in its fundamental aspect: territorial integrity. Singapore would point out that there were other key developments that demanded an updated restatement of the paragraph on the South China Sea; including positive developments involving all the countries concerned.

NAM had accepted by consensus updated provisions in light of changing facts on the ground in other places. The overriding principle is: what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Asean was the gander; Africa and former Eastern Europe were the geese. Two: a provision condemning Myanmar. The other provisions had been accepted and required, if at all, congratulations on our part. So, starting with the usual formality, this was the Philippine statement as crafted.

“Under Venezuela’s guidance we cut our draft Final Document for Baku from almost a thousand paragraphs down to a few.

“On disarmament, we filled the legal gap left by the ban on chemical and biological weapons with the nuclear weapons ban treaty which passed in the General Assembly by 160 votes; so far 57 countries have signed on—Philippines among the first. A higher parameter now informs non-proliferation talks.

“We are pleased that NAM welcomes the anniversaries of all treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones, including the 20th anniversary of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone. [I have always wondered if nuclear weapons-free zones—far from establishing nuclear parity and safety through mutual deterrence—rather favor emerging nuclear powers which have yet to achieve the celerity, distance and throw weight of the established nuclear powers that guaranteed by mutual deterrence the peace of the world: the US and former Soviet Union, Russia.]

“On sustainable development, like many NAM members, we should address the challenge posed to Middle Income Countries (or MICs) by the suggestion that having achieved so much already, MICs should graduate out of UN assistance programs despite the fact that MICs contain the greatest numbers of the very poor in the world by the sheer size of their populations. That they achieved MIC status shows they’ve been doing the right things; but obviously not enough of those. To cut them off in midstream is a signal that progress carries the penalty of being cut off and set adrift. Progress in MICs will continue along with widening income inequality but the temptation will grow to consign the poor into the biggest caste: the hopeless, while the hopeful parts of society move on to greater riches. In conscience this we cannot do.

“On UN reform, the Philippines supports the obvious: trimming the fat, downsizing the inessential to the achievement of UN goals; transparency to be able to spot them; accountability and remedy upon discovery; and imparting a sense of ownership to the member states—with which and through which alone—the UN must work if it expects to get anything done.  On counterterrorism, we appreciate NAM’s support for our widely acclaimed victory over the Da’esh-inspired and drug trade-financed attempt  to establish a caliphate in Marawi, Mindanao. The victory was total. But it was not just a military achievement against great odds, it was a social one as well. Most Muslim residents of Marawi fled the Islamic terrorist takeover of their city, while shielding their Christian neighbors from radical reprisals. Meanwhile the rest of the country effortlessly absorbed some 200,000 internally displaced persons. Terrorism is an evil so pure, it must be countered with means that are sure: a global effort against terror on every front by every society. Terrorism is a global problem that no country can tackle alone.”

As I had already said all this in the General Assembly time and again, and with Algeria and a few other NAM members monopolizing the discussion that afternoon which would have to end by 6.30 in the evening for purposes of economy, I thought it best to abbreviate and thereby cut to the chase the crafted Philippine statement for the moment the South China Sea statement was taken up by the Asean chair, Singapore. When she did, I followed with this.

“I take the floor to support Singapore, our Asean Chair, who succinctly tabled our group’s proposal for our way forward in the Southeast Asia section of the document.

“We repeat our appeal to friends whose countries lie in the shadows of great powers [lines in bold were said emphatically with tapping a finger on the table] for a little more solidarity, reasonableness and goodwill toward your fellow NAM members in Asean.

In the name of what this Movement stands for—non-alignment with any great power and submission to none—we ask you to respect the Asean consensus on the latest and encouraging progress in our region for all concerned parties.

“It would be odd if the Baku document will recognize the developments in your own respective regions since 2016, without doing the same for Southeast Asia. It would be a mockery of our founding principles and our solidarity if the Baku document will allow the updating of commitments in the light factual developments, while allowing the use of Cartagena rules to block NAM’s recognition of indisputable facts and law on the ground—or rather on the water in our region. It is sad that they insist on the 2014 language when so much that is now part of international law has happened since.

“The purpose of the draft final document is for NAM to remain relevant. To that end the Ministers must take stock of global and regional developments since the last NAM ministerial meeting two years ago—or what’s the point of meeting again? The draft is not yet clean but allow me to refer to the Cartagena Document on Methodology, where NAM consensus decision-making does not require or imply unanimity but implies substantial agreement which is just enough. Thank you.”

I was followed by Vietnam’s feisty ambassador Nguyen Phuong Nga, who is always eloquent and that evening was utterly emphatic on this issue which concerns all the littoral Asian states, including Japan. Then, one after another Asean ambassador supported the Asean consensus on the matter.

The African states gave short statements reaffirming their rejection of any changes in the South China Sea language from 2016, capped by Belarus who said that we should “face the facts: the matter was not only complex”—which it is not because the Hague Tribunal clarified everything clear as crystal—“but it would involve NAM in a matter that involves a non-member of NAM and therefore none of NAM’s business.”

To which I rejoined:

“Let’s face the fact that that statement comes from a country in the shadow of a great power.

“Let’s face the fact that the Non-Aligned Movement is composed of countries that are and can never be a threat to each other.

“And let’s face the fact that the NAM was precisely founded to protect countries that have two things in common: the first is that they are no threat to each other but are, one way or another, under threat from big powers with whom no NAM member should align or submit. That is why there is a NAM.”

Vietnam joined in with equal emphasis and vigor.

I did not bother to say that much of what is no longer part of the Soviet Union was for eons part of the uninterrupted and enduring Russian Empire of the Czars and Commissars; an empire the reelected Russian president wants to take back.

On the other hand, the littoral countries of the South China Sea were either always independent like Thailand or parts of long dead-and-buried empires: the Hindu Sri-Vijaya and the Indonesian, more accurately Javanese Madjapahit empires; and the Spanish and Portuguese, Dutch, British and French in that chronological order. All gone with the winds of wars but not before acknowledging in their humiliation the sovereignties of their former colonies. China was never an empire. It just happened to be, through millennia, one hell of a giant state bigger than most empires but occasionally divided yet always composed of one homogenous race which preferred to stay inside its ancient borders and behind its Great Wall—which was repeatedly breached by barbarians who, however, were careful to rule over the Chinese race in Chinese dress out of deference to the superior culture of the defeated. In short, Asean is composed of ancient sovereignties, none of whose territories are subject to reclamation by former and re-emerging hegemons unlike other regions.

Singapore came in again to say that Asean would raise the issue again at Baku. And Papua New Guinea expressed full support of the Asean case for updating the language on the South China Sea in light of incontrovertibly significant developments. Thank you PNG.

Then came the Myanmar statement that sought to be included in the final draft document to which I objected, along with Cambodia and Thailand:

“We align with Cambodia and Thailand to insist on the deletion of the paragraph to which they object. The Philippines fully realizes the gravity of the situation in Rakhine State which has greatly affected Bangladesh and the immediate region. The Philippines has opened its doors unconditionally to refugees therefrom. The proposed language has good intentions but a road paved with good intentions does not always lead to good results. Especially this one. At this crucial time, we must engage with Myanmar rather than condemn it on a matter profoundly touching on the principle of national sovereignty. There are other angles from which to approach a humanitarian crisis other than by inflaming nationalist and ethnic passions. We need to cooperate with all the parties concerned. Condemnation will only aggravate instead of ameliorate the humanitarian crisis. Thank you.”

With that I stood up, walked over to the Myanmar ambassador, a good friend and longtime champion of Burmese democracy, and shook his hand. And walked out. I was late for dinner.






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