|Soft Power & Cultural Diplomacy in Southeast Asia: The Perspective of the Philippines|
|Written by Philippine Embassy Webmaster|
|Wednesday, 05 May 2010|
H.E. Ambassador Delia Domingo Albert
Introduction & Intentions
I thank the ICD for inviting me once again to participate in its series of seminars specially in bringing about consciousness for our part of Asia to Europe.
I am particularly pleased to be able to share with you the Philippine perspective on the development of a region which, through “soft power and cultural diplomacy”, has kept the peace in the area and has improved the lives of the people of Southeast Asia through its regional organization known as ASEAN.
ASEAN represented by its logo of 10 rice stalks bound together in the middle to symbolize unity in diversity, was founded in Bangkok, Thailand in August 1967 by the Foreign Ministers of five maritime countries, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
I am told that the ministers, while considering the birth of a regional organization, played a lot of golf during the day reinforcing friendships and gaining confidence before they sat down to discuss and later sign on a Declaration.
They agreed to a two-page document that expressed a) common determination not to allow their disputes (bilateral) to develop into conflict; b) to work together for common purposes and more importantly, c) to avoid being involved in the competition of the big powers who were then jockeying for position in Southeast Asia.
These were the plain intentions of the five ministers as they created an atmosphere of considerable comfort and confidence in dealing with each other.
Organization and Profile
On its 40th year in 2007, ASEAN decided to formalize the organization by agreeing to a charter rather than a treaty. The Charter gave the organization the legal personality that did not exist for four decades but nonetheless, the organization moved on, cooperating politically, economically and culturally even without a juridical personality.
Because integration was not in the early agenda of ASEAN, most of its decisions were exercises of “friendly persuasion”. There were no steadfast legal instruments, except for the Bangkok Declaration, and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
If one can go by the definition of “soft power”, which according to a BBC report can be defined as “power by persuasion”, ASEAN can be ranked highly for exercising “soft power” at every single step in building what we now know as the ASEAN Community.
So how did ASEAN grow from a simple declaration of intentions to the most successful regional organization in Asia today?
To substantiate this statement, let me give you a few reference points to remember:
that we are 10 countries geographically contiguous to each other
A great leader of ASEAN once said, “To understand the present and anticipate the future, one must know enough of the past, enough to have a sense of history of a people.”
Let me therefore give you a picture of the group of countries that comprise ASEAN.
Historically, colonial regimes determined the shape of what we know today as the Southeast Asian nations – Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch; Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore by the British; the Philippines by the Americans; and Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam by the French. Only Thailand was ruled by a Thai royalty.
Moreover, race, ethnicity and religion as well as territorial disputes straddled national boundaries which made nation-building within each country rather challenging.
However, one should not forget that Southeast Asians had been interacting with each other through trade, cultural exchanges and human contacts even before the West came to colonize the area.
Indeed, Southeast Asia is a far more diverse group of nations than what you find in Europe. We are diverse in so many ways such as in race and ethnicity; in the role of religion in political as well as social life; in the legal and political systems and modes of governance; in levels of economic development and approaches to development; in values as well as in historical experiences, culture, and many more differences.
So why, you may ask, with all these differences did ASEAN decide to get together?
Perhaps the following words of one of the founders could explain the raison d'être of ASEAN:
“We want to be free, we do not want to be under the influence of anyone, large or small. We do not want to depend on the outside world, we want to depend on each and everyone of us. In other words, we try to create conditions of mutual help, to ensure our future destiny, we tried to work out our problems among ourselves.”
The diversity I have presented within and among the nations coupled with the long isolation from one another as well as the circumstances of the formation of the group and the state of relations among them at the time of its creation shaped the characteristics of the association and set what has become to be known as the “ASEAN Way”.
What is the “ASEAN Way”?
it is the common preference in advancing its causes through informality, loose arrangements, rather than treaties and formal agreements;
Earlier, I referred to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation which is the formal agreement of the five leaders signed in 1976. The treaty was a necessary base as it committed the ASEAN nations to the usual norms of behavior in the relations among states such as national sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs, rejection of the use of force and the peaceful settlement of disputes.
What about Cultural Diplomacy?
To my mind, ASEAN’s diversity as I described earlier also became its strength. Partly because of the differences in their colonial legacies, the discrepancies in their perceived interests as new nations and because of their history of conflict and potential for conflict, the relations were fragile and delicate. ASEAN therefore undertook actions to get to know each other better and a search for identity through a resurgence of interest in indigenous roots came about.
Moreover, because ASEAN is a huge cultural mosaic reflecting the richness and philosophical basis of its various societies, there evolved the need for cultural cooperation for the following reasons:
the need to understand each other’s cultures, value systems, nuances and sensitivities
ASEAN therefore embarked on a conscious strategy for an active cultural cooperation program engaging as many sectors of society as possible. It was cultural diplomacy at all levels.
Indeed, ASEAN cooperation in the cultural field has been most impressive. It established ASEAN Cultural Institutions in each member country which took care of cultural exchanges, festivals, publications and a host of other cultural activities all geared towards building an ASEAN Community.
I have always likened ASEAN Cultural Diplomacy as a weaving process to create an ASEAN tapestry. However, in order to weave, one needs a loom. ASEAN member countries contribute annually to a culture fund which was founded by the Fukuda Fund, a major contribution of Japan, one of ASEAN’s earliest dialogue partners. Through this loom, ASEAN member countries have discovered themselves and others through their shared cultural experiences.
After having built a solid core of like-minded countries, ASEAN decided to reach out to its neighbors as well as to others beyond the region. We maintain dialogue relationships with 11 countries and of course, the EU is one of them.
ASEAN has come a long way since our ministers decided to bring our countries together in 1967. We have kept the peace in what was once one of the most volatile regions in the world. While there may be internal disruptions within the member states, there have been no battles fought between the member states.
Indeed we have overcome potential causes for conflicts through our tried-and-tested processes of “soft power” and cultural diplomacy.
Finally, as with all organizations and entities, we do realize that ASEAN is not the so-called “ultimate creation”.
In reality, as the world moves on, so will ASEAN. I believe that we in the region are aware of this reality and therefore are prepared to move on towards wider horizons.
We have joined other entities individually and collectively such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC and, more recently, the Asia-Europe Meeting or ASEM. We have also designed some mathematical combinations such as 10 + 3 or 10 + 6, even going as far as 10 minus X, in order to meet decisions by consensus.
We have seen how useful ASEAN has been to all of us and have found it beneficial to strengthen it. It cannot and will not diminish. We have even finally decided to “integrate” as one market.
May I take this opportunity to welcome German business who are going to Singapore next week to interface with their ASEAN counterparts. Yesterday, I suggested to State Secretary Cornelia Pieper of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that a similar face-to-face dialogue could take place between German and ASEAN cultural diplomacy thinkers and practitioners to which she readily accepted our suggestion.
As you can see, we are mindful of our past but even more challenged by our future. After all, we are not only an Association of Southeast Asian Nations but of “Energetic and Ambitious Nations”!