By Jose C. De Venecia Jr.
Global potential of expanded route
In order to expand, deepen, and strengthen the economic, trade, political, cultural, and people-to-people linkages of the historic Silk Road, might we in the Philippines propose consideration of the development of a “third route,” to complement and extend China’s great “Belt and Road” Initiative?
For from Hainan island off Guangdong province in southern China, the route could also pass through the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the small island nation of Timor Leste onwards.
Already in Northwestern Philippines, as part of an extended Belt and Maritime Road plan, on the banks of the South China Sea, an agri-tourism belt and large petro-chemical and industrial complex, being planned by China’s Xianglu Dragon Group in Xiamen, Fujian Province, indeed much needed in the region, is being planned for implementation by pioneering Chinese and Philippine groups.
And from Timor Leste to Australia’s Gold Coast to Sydney, and New Zealand, the extended route could move across the south Pacific, and enter Latin America: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and the tourism-rich Caribbean islands, then Mexico, all the way to the US as in the old days of the Galleon Trade from Manila to Acapulco, Mexico, which sailed for 250 years.
It is not far-fetched: For there are already multiple large overseas Chinese investments in South America. And at some point, we invite the Latinos should also bring their investments and trade to the south Pacific and into Asia.
Yes, our proposed 21st Century “third route,” hopefully an enlargement of the Silk Route would make the celebrated “Belt and Road initiative” almost globally inclusive, after Europe and Africa, and create a linkage with two more continents — Australia and Latin America — in a new circumnavigation, in a revival of the Age of Exploration, and new spirit in the Age of Globalization.
The tough task of peace-making
With this dramatic role, China’s noble vision is being put to the test with the tough tasks it faces in peace-making and promoting regional stability.
Asia’s most dangerous flashpoints happen to be in its neighborhood.
On its northern flank is the rising danger of explosion in the Korean Peninsula, and on its southern flank the disturbing conflict over sovereignty in the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
We believe that the venture to find common ground has no enemy, and involves not just China alone but us, her neighbors, nurtured by the Chinese saying that, “the interests to be considered should be the interests of all.”
This is a framework that begets a new attitude towards old questions — and the approach that appears likelier now than ever before is “win-win cooperation.”
Most practical solution in China Sea crises
The disagreement in the South China Sea with conflicting sovereignty claims, may be settled, we believe, by temporarily shelving the issue of sovereignty, much earlier advised by the great leader, Deng Hsiao Peng, architect of China’s economic modernization, undertake joint exploration and joint development, which we had the privilege to propose in 2004-2005, and revive the resulting 3-nation Seismic Agreement officially signed and undertaken by Manila, Beijing, and Hanoi in 2005-2006, and hopefully, eventually convert the zone of conflict into a Zone of Peace, Friendship, Cooperation and Development.
Its aim was to assess the potential in the disputed areas for hydrocarbons exploration and development.
Scientists of the three nations pronounced the prospects “promising,” and it is obvious as members of the ASEAN family that today, with China, we must find ways and means to jointly develop the area’s hydrocarbons potential to help lessen our common dependence on distant petroleum sources in the Middle East.
Imagine the potential for peace in the heartland of the South China Sea if we undertake a joint development of its resources.
On May 15, 2017, in Beijing’s historic “High-level Dialogue on the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation,” we said that from an area of conflict, it could be transformed into a landscape and seascape of small seaports, airports and oil pipelines. Fishing villages and small tourism townships could rapidly rise in the areas contested principally by the Philippines, China, and Vietnam, once converted into a Zone of Friendship, Commerce, Navigation, and Development, and become the passage way, untrammeled, for global shipping, carrying more than 50 percent of the sea freight of the world.
This is perhaps the most realistic, most common-sensical solution to the problem of the Spratlys and Paracels, and which could be subsequently joined by Malaysia, and Brunei and Taiwan, and could also be the solution to the dangerous problem between China and Japan in the tiny isles in Senkaku Straits or Diaoyu in the East China Sea.
Resource-sharing by other countries; Solution is actually possible
As a result of intelligent and pragmatic diplomacy, in the Norwegian Ekofisk oil field in the North sea, which we visited when we were president of the Petroleum Association of the Philippines in the 1970s, the discovered oil in the sea goes all the way to Norway and Teeside, England, and the natural gas is piped to Germany.
The oil in the Caspian Sea countries is shared by Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan because among them, there is demarcation and practical mutual understanding and goodwill.
Giant Australia and tiny East Timor share the hydrocarbons in the South Pacific in the waters just below Darwin and on the southeast side of Asia’s newest republic.
The 1989 Agreement between Malaysia and Thailand enable them to jointly develop their disputed waters.
We just came from Senegal two weeks ago during the launching in West Africa, of the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), ICAPP’s fraternal ally, and we reminded them that the Guinea-Bissau and Senegal Agreement of 1993 helped their countries develop their disputed areas.
Indeed the idea of “win-win cooperation” — of pragmatic and intelligent, unselfish sharing of areas and resources — instead of engaging in conflict and war, could help build a model for lessening tensions and solving conflicts, and avoiding the possibility of war in Asia’s manifold and dangerous flashpoints.
Institutionalizing the Interfaith Dialogue
We in ICAPP campaigned in 2004 in the UN General Assembly, in the UN Security Council, in other halls of the UN in Europe for an inter-faith, inter-cultural, and inter-civilizational dialogue with our proposal to create an Interfaith Council in the UN or at least a focal point in the Office of the UN Secretary General, at a time when discussion of religion was somewhat taboo within the UN system.
If creating a new council is overly difficult — as some legalists have warned — then, perhaps, we could write an interfaith mandate in the mission order of the Trusteeship Council of the UN which had anyway ran out of trust territories to supervise. We had partially succeeded: today there is an Interfaith unit operating in the office of the UN Secretary General.
In the United Nations, Iran and the Philippines were the closest allies in promoting the concept and practice of Interfaith Dialogue.
In partnership, the Philippines and Iran successfully sponsored a resolution in the General Assembly in November, 2004, binding the UN to promote interfaith dialogue as a way of resolving politico-religious conflicts, strengthening the religious moderates, and isolating those who advocate terrorism in the name of religion. As speaker of the House at the time, we had the privilege to present these initiatives of Iran and the Philippines to the UN General Assembly and to the Security Council.
Since then, not only the United Nations and individual governments, but also civil society groupings, have been holding these important dialogues at local, national, regional, and international levels.
From these Interfaith Dialogues, we should expect no miracles — except those epiphanies that result from open hearts, the willingness to see the other side’s viewpoint, and a multitude of patience.
(To be continued)