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Asian leaders slam protectionism

Sep 13. 2018
South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, (L) and Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono, attend a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the National Convention Center in Hanoi on September 13, 2018./AFP
South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, (L) and Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono, attend a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the National Convention Center in Hanoi on September 13, 2018./AFP
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By The Nation
Hanoi, Vietnam

5,867 Viewed

With a rapidly oscillating geopolitical dynamic, one underscored by escalating trade tensions between major powers, Asian leaders called for adherence to a "rules-based" order, and rejected unilateral and protectionist moves, on the closing day of the World Economic Forum on Asean in Hanoi.

"I think we need to establish rule-based international order and any unilateral challenge to the status quo; the international community needs to stand up against it," said Taro Kono, Japan’s minister of foreign affairs. The "collapse of multilateralism, stemming from the trade war" between the United States and China, he said, must follow the same principles and existing liberal international order.

Asean leaders and their counterparts from Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka echoed concerns about rising unilateralism over rising trade tensions and territorial concerns in the South China Sea, raising critical questions about the geopolitical implications of the global rebalancing.

"Looking at the geopolitics in Asia and friction between America and China, I am concerned about the rebalancing of the global order," said Ranil Wickremesinghe, prime minister of Sri Lanka.

"What will happen to multilateral law? What we have built up is multilateral law. Will that law be decayed, diminished or can it be strengthened?"

China's territorial moves in the South China Sea, said Lynn Kuok of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore, will reveal what type of regulatory environment will prevail.

"I will be watching out for developments in the South China Sea. China is consolidating its control over the region and resources. This matters because it will change the balance of power in the region and whether it is governed by might or right," argued Kuok.

While there are clear regional fractures, Kang Kyung-Wha, South Korean minister of foreign affairs, said there are also moments of geopolitical alignment, such as current moves to advance denuclearisation efforts on the Korean peninsula, which look much more promising than they did a year ago.

"On US-China relations, if you look at just the trade side it does look tense, but I think these are two big players on the global stage with strategic calculations that sometimes diverge, but also at times converge. And I think on the North Korea nuclear issue, they have converged," said Kang, ahead of a third summit on the issue to be held in Pyongyang next week.

Rejecting nationalistic and protectionist trends that are resonating across the region, Pham Binh Minh, foreign minister of Vietnam, turned to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of the meeting, cautioning that future growth must be inclusive otherwise disparity will become a geopolitical threat. "It is undeniable that the revolution offers tremendous opportunities; but if a country cannot seize the opportunities it can be left behind,” he told the event.

In addition to traditional geopolitical threats, such as maritime security and freedom of navigation and trade, the Japanese foreign minister said that one of his biggest geopolitical concerns is catastrophic weather changes on the back of climate change.

"The biggest concern is probably climate change. The sea water level is very high and we are getting stronger typhoons, stronger cyclones, heavier rain," said Kono.

“Once in 100-year rain turns out to be once every two years. It is not just an environmental issue, but involves water supply management and food security. We really need to be serious about taking care of this issue."

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