Imagine the arts uniting 6 rivals for Spratlys on one stage
Imagine some of the music greats of all six claimants to territories in the South China Sea—the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei—on one stage and taking part in a concert that aims to promote camaraderie and friendly relations among these nations and ease rising tensions in the disputed waters.
Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, head of Artists for Peace, a group affiliated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), was talking on Saturday about the “very relevant Music for Peace concert.”
She said “the first lady of China, Madame Peng Liyuan, has just been named a Unesco envoy for education.”
“She is a well-known singer. We hope that she can be a part of this process and even take the lead in the successful implementation of a music theater gathering that can heal like a ‘balm in Gilead’ to fertilize the ground for more conciliatory political rhetoric in determining a reasonable and ethical resolution of clashing interests,” Alvarez said.
“We’ll formally propose to the Unesco the country’s hosting of the event during its next meeting of goodwill ambassadors, scheduled for June 30 in Paris,” where the United Nations body has its headquarters, Alvarez told the Inquirer.
Alvarez, wife of former Sen. Heherson Alvarez, now a climate change commissioner, described as “doable” what she called a “cultural diplomacy initiative.”
“From Manila, the other claimants—Beijing, Hanoi, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Bandar Seri Begawan—could take turns hosting the concert. It would also be a good idea to invite artists from Japan and South Korea, both of which also have territorial rows with their north Asian neighbor (China),” she said.
The former executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts said her group was seriously considering presenting an “eclectic mix of pop, jazz, rock, folk and classical singers, among others, as well as dancers and theater icons, taking part in the activity.”
According to Alvarez, also head of the environmental group Earthsavers-Dreams Ensemble, “the universal language of the arts can bond and link people together.”
“The artists’ diverse creative expressions can recharge memories of kinship in the region … . Through art, we can bridge understanding, reaffirm friendship. Through creative negotiation and compromise, we can initiate collaboration on peaceful coexistence in the region,” she said.
Alvarez said she was confident “this musical event could lower the decibel of raging arguments and provide a respite from aggressive actions while raising consciousness of the importance of a rational dialogue based on the agreed Association of Southeast Asian Nations code of conduct and an understanding of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as an international maritime agreement.”
Situation getting worse
The other day, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario reported that China’s increasing activities in the Spratlys were escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea, noting “the situation is getting worse every day.”
Up to 12 Chinese Coast Guard vessels were monitored by the Philippine Air Force on maritime patrol missions in the West Philippine Sea, indicating haste in Chinese activities in the waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
The Chinese government’s dredging vessels were reportedly escorted by Coast Guard ships to keep ships from other claimant-countries away.
China’s apparent haste to stake its claim to almost the entire South China Sea is seen as an effort to beat the conclusion of a code of conduct in the disputed waters with its Southeast Asian neighbors and a ruling of the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea on the challenge to that excessive claim brought by the Philippines in January 2013.
Agree with Almonte
When interviewed, Alvarez said her group “strongly agrees with (former National Security Adviser) Jose Almonte who had called for a people-to-people strategy in solving the country’s [territorial dispute with China].”
“Sometime in May, the House of Representatives sent an all-woman delegation to meet leaders of China’s Communist Party,” Alvarez said.
Like the group led by Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia, Alvarez said her group was “convinced that our relations with Beijing goes beyond the territorial dispute, and the West Philippine Sea is not the sum … of Philippines-China ties.”
Sports in the Spratlys
She also cited the “rare display of camaraderie” between Philippine and Vietnamese naval forces who played football, volleyball and tug-of-war on June 8 at the Vietnam-occupied Pugad (Southwest Cay) Island in the disputed Spratly archipelago. The Philippines occupied Pugad until 1975, when South Vietnamese forces seized the island through trickery.
Philippine Navy spokesperson Gerald Fabic had said the Philippines wanted to “show that there can be other approaches to the disputes that can in fact ease tensions.”
The rare event was “proof that disputes do not hinder development of practical and tangible cooperation,” Fabic said.
Like the sports event, Alvarez said her group’s planned Music for Peace concert could also serve as a “model of cooperation” that Spratlys claimant-states can emulate.
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