As President Aquino flies today to the United States to attend a high-level meeting between US President Obama and leaders of ASEAN, erstwhile ally and now Aquino critic Walden Bello issued a warning to leaders of the Southeast Asian regional bloc to be wary of US geopolitical and economic agenda in the region.  The high level summit is expected to tackle two key concerns for ASEAN: The Transpacific Partnership Agreement or TPP and the maritime conflicts with China.

Walden Bello, who is running for Senator as an independent said in a statement:  “ASEAN leaders should guard against being sucked into a geopolitical formation masquerading as a beneficial economic bloc. The US plan is to use TPP to counter China’s economic rise. The Philippines and ASEAN must not allow themselves to be used as pawns in the competition between China and the US.”

The controversial US-led trade deal among 12 Pacific Rim countries including ASEAN member-States Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam, was forged last year amidst concerns raised by a wide-array of groups and sectors across Asia and the Pacific including in the United States and Canada, over the lack of transparency in the negotiating process, and over the highly ambitious nature of the economic agreement.

According to Joseph Purugganan, Philippine Coordinator of Focus on the Global South, “the TPP and other new generation or mega FTAs are really more than just trade agreements. They are pushing an economic agenda that demand far deeper commitments from negotiating parties.”

“The Philippine government and ASEAN leaders should seriously rethink their plans join the TPP” 

“We urge President Aquino not to rush our entry into the TPP. We need more debate on the matter and this is something that the next administration should take up,” Purugganan added.

Groups in the United States have also issued a similar warning:  US-based advocacy group Public Citizen issued a press release today drawing attention to the criticisms faced by TPP in the US Congress and the pact’s uncertain future.

Public Citizen: “In bilateral meetings, Obama is expected to urge ASEAN nations to alter their policies to qualify to someday join the TPP, despite the fact that the pact’s future is at best uncertain.”

The Public Citizen statement quotes a number of US Senators expressing their serious concerns over TPP.

“There are a number of flaws here. We’re gonna keep on talking about it and seeing if there’s a way forward. With both the Democratic candidates for president opposed to the deal and a number of the presidential candidates of our party opposed to the deal, it’s my advice that we not pursue that, certainly before the election,” U.S. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Washington, D.C. reporters on Feb. 2.

The governments of Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, have all expressed their desire to join the TPP and there seems to be a mad scramble among these countries on who will be accepted first.

Another issue that is expected to be high on the agenda is the maritime security in the region and the conflicts with China.

Bello warns that “ASEAN should not allow itself to be turned into a springboard for the US strategy to militarily contain China, like the Philippines has done under the Aquino administration.””

“At the same time, ASEAN should not allow itself to be pushed around by China. It should use the instruments of international law and diplomacy and demand that China live up to its promise to negotiate a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” Bello added.#



Joseph Purugganan

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