Experts urge rejection of populist leaders, nations that think ‘might makes right’
Populist leaders and powerful countries are undermining the international rule of law with their “might makes right” stance but nations around the world should resist such a position to protect global order, diplomats and foreign relations experts said on Friday.
Visiting British Minister of State for Asia and Pacific Affairs Mark Field said the rules-based international system had “a hugely positive impact on global security and prosperity, protecting people and countries, and helping them to achieve their potential.”
“This rules-based international system is a network of agreements and institutions that requires our support if it is to continue to protect us and make us more prosperous,” he said. “If we stand back—perhaps in the hope of some possible short-term gain—we will all be worse off in the long run.”
Freedom of navigation
Speaking at a Stratbase-ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi) forum in Taguig City, Field said it was “unfortunate” that some leaders were intent on “flouting and undermining” the rules-based international system.
He referred to Russia, which he said was responsible for a chemical attack against a former Russian spy in the English town of Salisbury in March.
Field also cited the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, which was the subject of an arbitration case won by the Philippines against China in 2016 but ignored by Beijing.
Field urged all territorial claimants to respect freedom of navigation and international law, including the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration to reject China’s sweeping claims over virtually the entire waterway.
“It is critical for regional stability, and for the integrity of the rules-based international system, that disputes in the region are resolved, not through force, militarization or coercion, but through dialogue and in accordance with international law,” he said.
Australia’s ambassador to the Philippines, Amanda Gorely, said the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) would allow claimant states to “cooperate and negotiate to resolve differences rather than resorting to the use of threat or force.”
The Philippines, three other Asean countries—Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei—China and Taiwan have overlapping claims to islands and reefs in the South China Sea, one of the busiest in the world and believed to be rich in marine and underwater mineral resources.
“As a supporter of a rules-based order,” Gorely said, “Australia believes that the negotiation of a code of conduct for the South China Sea has a potential to help manage the disputes and decrease the tensions.”
ADRi board chair and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the rise of a rules-based international system had been the “great equalizer” in global affairs and the “bedrock of peace, order and fairness in modern societies.”
“International law has given equal voice to nations regardless of political, economic or military stature, banning the unlawful use of sheer force,” he said.
China’s actions in the region, he said, remained to be one of the “most important and contentious” external threats not only to the Philippines but to the Asia-Pacific region.
He said China had “unceasingly refused to accept the arbitral ruling that is now an integral part of international law” while depriving the Philippines of its “sovereign rights.”
Francisco Magno of De La Salle University said autocratic governments were trying to establish an alternative political order that was “governed by might rather than international laws or rules.”
The director of De La Salle’s Jesse Robredo Institute of governance said this was a “backlash” to globalization that had resulted in the “diminishing support” for liberal democracy.
“Across the liberal democratic world, populists, nationalists and xenophobic strengths of backlash politics have proliferated,” Magno said.
He said due to the growing protectionist tendencies of populist regimes, there was a need to strengthen regional organizations such as Asean where countries work together to maintain an “open and rules-based multilateral trading system” and to foster cooperation in various fields such as the protection of migrant workers and cybersecurity.
Raul Pangalangan, a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and former law dean of the University of the Philippines, said “the best way to strengthen the rule of law internationally is to first strengthen it domestically.”
He said some countries, many of them in Asia, remained hesitant to submit to the ICC, despite its “fixed rules” in handling cases.
“I think it has less to do with the fact that we are international. It has more to do with the fact that we are a court,” he said.
Asian governments prefer a mediator whose goal is the “mutual appeasement of warring tribes” and who will come up with a ruling acceptable to the parties rather than a judgment on who is right and wrong, he said.
He made no direct reference to President Duterte, who has decided to withdraw the Philippines’ ratification of the Rome Statute, due to “baseless” accusations against him by UN officials and alleged violations of due process by the ICC.
Mr. Duterte made the decision in May following an announcement by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that she would start a preliminary examination of a complaint accusing him of crimes against humanity in connection with his bloody war on drugs.
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