ASEAN and minilateral diplomacy

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According to Richard Heydarian of the University of the Philippines, cooperation among member countries is also useful at the bilateral or trilateral level

During a state visit to Vietnam a few weeks ago, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed an agreement to expand bilateral cooperation on maritime security. The two governments signaled that they will work more closely together to protect common interests in the South China Sea, especially with their coast guard forces. The announcement followed a similar face-to-face on security cooperation earlier in Manila between Marcos and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who also made stops in Vietnam and Brunei. "These visits are more than symbolic," argues Richard Heydarian, senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines' Asia Center, in a commentary published in Nikkei Asia in recent days. According to Heydarian, considering the fact that ASEAN focuses on decision-making by consensus, "the bloc has sometimes been slow and unresponsive to major crises in its own backyard." In this context, Heydarian argues that "minilateral" cooperation among key members with common strategic interests "has the potential to make Southeast Asia a much more effective force in the Indo-Pacific region." Not a replacement for the bloc's role, but an extension and perhaps an enhancement of it. The expert commentary reads, "Although the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam are developing nations with relatively limited military capabilities, the trio can collectively contribute to ASEAN's centrality in shaping the regional security architecture and with greater strategic coordination." This year has already begun as a productive one for ASEAN minilateralism. Under strategic cooperation, Hanoi and Manila will collaborate on infrastructure development and co-production of batteries for electric vehicles, tapping the Philippines' large reserves of copper, nickel and cobalt. Vietnam in particular is the source of about 90 percent of the Philippines' rice imports. Later this year, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan are likely to join Vietnam for the annual Marpolex marine pollution exercise. Thus, minilateralism can also be useful in other areas besides security, according to Heydarian.

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