Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.
Foreign Affairs Secretary
Eu Ministerial Forum for Cooperation in the INDO-PACIFIC
22 February 2022, Paris
Roundtable on Security and Defense
Today’s Ministerial Forum and the emergence of the EU’s Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific affirm what I have long held true: the future will be determined by the dynamics of the Indo-Pacific.
As my good friend, Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar wisely said, “[t]he Indo-Pacific is unquestionably the arena for the contemporary version of the Great Game, where multiple players with diverse ambitions display their strategic skills.”
In that arena – with its diversity and wide geographical reach-— multilateralism is imperative. For the Philippines, ASEAN and “ASEAN Centrality” are the core of that multilateral order. The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’s principles of inclusiveness, openness, cooperation and consensus-building; and respect for international law towards regional cooperation are ASEAN’s guideposts. ASEAN-led mechanisms such as the East Asian Summit are its platforms for dialogue and action.
In this context, the Philippines looks to deepening our engagement with the EU on security and defense issues.
There are many ways to govern countries, said the woman I served who represented French Revolution on its Bicentennial; but only one way to treat people: and that is with decency.
Even so there is only one way to secure and defend our respective countries and our region’s freedom and independence: and that is to be stronger. And there is only one way to grow our collective strength and ensure a successful outcome, and that is with dependable alliances that share our vital interests.
We value the clarity given by the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy on enhancing EU’s role in preserving a peaceful and thriving Indo- Pacific by promoting an open and rules-based regional security architecture, and by being there for us as we would be for it.
UNCLOS is the anchor of that rules-based regional security architecture. It is the international legal framework under which all activities in the oceans and sea must be carried out. The 2016 Arbitral Award is our contribution to the strengthening of the legal order over the seas. It benefits all across the board. We therefore welcomed the EU’s principled statement on the 5th Anniversary of the Award, that “what happens in the South China Sea matters to the EU, ASEAN and the whole world.” Finally, we are not alone in what we alone fought for and won.
We aspire for a South China Sea of peace, equality, mutual security, stability and prosperity. The Code of Conduct currently under negotiations will contribute to that. But we want to see the COC as what it has to be: an agreement to act in a certain manner that does not give prominence or special status to any of its parties nor carves out a special regime apart from UNCLOS; and respects the rights of all powers in the world, including freedom of navigation. Otherwise we will reject it as a self-serving Code of Exclusion.
The focus of the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy on secure sea lines of communication, capacity-building, enhanced naval presence, and joint exercises to protect safety and freedom of navigation resonate strongly with us. Our Coast Guard, Navy and Police Maritime Group are interested in CRIMARIO II to enhance our maritime domain awareness so we hope to see progress in this.
We welcome that France’s national Indo-Pacific Strategy was defined by the reality that it is an Indo-Pacific presence, having 1.6 million citizens living in its communities and territories in the Pacific. Indeed France, like the United Kingdom, Netherlands and hopefully Spain, are historically part of our region. Their long presence contributed to the identity of Southeast Asia. France continues a sovereign presence in our part of the world.
The Philippines and France are both vanguards of UNCLOS and the rule of law in maritime security and safety. Like France, we will continue to assert our maritime entitlements in accordance with UNCLOS. May this common crusade be a springboard for an enduring partnership in maritime security cooperation.
Finally, as country coordinator for ASEAN-EU relations the Philippines commits to advancing shared interests in maritime cooperation, connectivity, the SDGs, climate action and economic cooperation, and mutual cultural enrichment. We look to a new Plan of Action for 2023-2027 that will “build our future better” and further solidify our priorities as Strategic Partners.
We are aware of the great power dynamics in the region. ASEAN is a highly organized and thriving alliance, a real and decisive presence in the region, and therefore the EU’s most viable partner in the Indo-Pacific. France’s special focus in this forum is on the area from East Africa to the doorstep of ASEAN. There it will be welcomed by the most developed, firmly united, and most capable regional association in the world; combining flexibility and strong commitment to principles.
At the ASEAN-EU Post-Ministerial Conference last August, I said that to partner as two groupings or bilaterally as members of either, we —Southeast Asians and you — European Unionists must first put ourselves in the other’s shoes. And walk around in them. That’s the only way we’ll both know why we’re coming from our respective directions. Nobody else can show us that.
It won’t be smooth; there will be missteps. And both sides have to realize it will have to be give and take. And there must be transparency and inclusiveness in decision-making. With the same comparative advantages, one of us has to make room for the other or even replace the other altogether. But even then we must appreciate that there can be greater gains when there must sometimes be losses, as my friend External Minister Jaishankar told me in Manila. Then see what either can give to make up for the loss of the others and help them attain it. This Conference and the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy is an excellent start.
As we cling to the legacy of the past, as our Brother Korea noted, let us not lose faith in the open promise of the future. Thank you.
 S. Jaishankar, The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World (2020).
 EU Critical Maritime Routes in the Indian Ocean II (CRIMARIO II) Initiative