By Raissa Robles
TOKYO – Today I learned a lot while attending a journalists’ conference on regional security in Tokyo sponsored by The Japan Institute of International Affairs.
Since the conference was governed by a somewhate revised version of Chatham House rules – which in journo speak simply means – you can quote but no name attribution unless you were able to ask permission – the speakers were quite frank.
I’d like to share with you guys some of the things I learned.
I realized that countries so close together in Southeast Asia could see the same thing in different perspectives. Which is why talking with each other is so important.
For instance, while many watchers of Thailand are wringing their hands over the deteriorating political situation there, one senior journalist indicated he wasn’t that bothered about it because “in Thailand, instability is a kind of stability.”
I guess the Thai’s ability to accept chaos as part of life helps them cope.
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Several participants voiced the opinion that the United States was acting “like a part time power” in Asia.
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At least one journalist voiced the sentiment that ASEAN countries should not be required to choose between China and Japan but can have meaningful relations with both countries.
Another journalist said that ASEAN, despite its shortcomings and handicaps, could still play a role in resolving disputes between countries.
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One journalist pointed out that it was when ASEAN took a united stand that it was able to persuade China to sign the 2002 “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”
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One participant bluntly told me during a break that the Philippines should not have unilaterally gone to the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and filed an arbitral complaint against China. It should have consulted ASEAN first. The Philippines lost a lot of goodwill points by doing that.
The participant also had the impression that President Benigno Aquino has never traveled on a state visit to any of the ASEAN countries. But I told him that from what I recall, his first official state visit was to Vietnam. Also, it did look that way because he timed his visits with an internatiional meeting he had to attend like ASEAN.
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During the delicious dinner afterward, I was fortunate to have as one of my seatmates Ravi Velloor, the Foreign Editor of The Straits Times in Singapore. He regaled us with anecdotes of his interviews with the former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohd. He recalled that one time, Dr, Mahathir was incensed at the way the ratings agencies Standard and Poor’s as well as Moody’s had downgraded the ringgit.
He asked Dr. Mahathir to comment and the PM shot back at those ratings agencies, saying their standards were poor and sometimes they’re moody.
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