People’s Forum Statement on the 14th East Asia Summit

November 5, 2019

We, participants from civil society organizations and people’s movements in Asia Pacific gathered in Bangkok, Thailand on the occasion of the 14th East Asia Summit to discuss the implications of the its agenda, how it will affect the people and our actions in the spirit of people’s solidarity.

 The EAS is a leaders-only meeting of ASEAN member states with their 8 partner countries, including the US and Russia.  Formed in 2005 as a forum for “strategic dialogue and cooperation on regional peace, security and prosperity,” the EAS plays an important role in the regional architecture serving as institutional support for the building of the ASEAN community.

Purportedly to be “open, inclusive, transparent and outward-looking,” in reality, the EAS in the last 14 years has remained exclusive to and serving only the interests of states and not their people. While the EAS boasts of broadness and inclusivity compared to other existing regional formations, it discounts the people on the ground that will be directly affected are missing in the picture just as the others do. It is a closed-door meeting of heads of states with no room for civil society engagement.

On top of the EAS agenda on 4th November 2019 is the much-awaited conclusion of the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This China-backed mega-regional trade deal covers half of the world’s population, 38 percent of the world’s economy and 30 percent of the world’s trade volume.  We have time and again pointed out RCEP’s damaging provisions on investment, intellectual property, e-commerce and services, among others with impending impacts across sectors and communities especially its role in facilitating greater corporate investment protection at the expense of people’s rights.  Once RCEP comes into force, corporations can freely block national social and environmental protection policies by filing claims in Investment State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) courts whereby governments can be sued for corporate profit lost.  We demand that RCEP be junked.

Another agenda is the pitch for broad support to the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), the grouping’s latest approach to ASEAN-led multilateral cooperation.  Anchored on the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, AOIP has no specific articulations on how the mechanism can promote regional peace and stability in the midst of the festering human rights situation across the region.

AOIP has 4 key elements: maritime cooperation, connectivity, SDG Agenda 2030 and the economy does not take into account the fact that real economic growth cannot be achieved without genuine peace. These areas of cooperation anchored on the same neoliberal paradigm that precipitated the multiple crises of severe poverty, inequality in the region will only bring serious consequences to the people’s right to development.  We demand that the East Asian leaders rethink their approach and put human rights at the center of their discussions.

Finally, negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea is also expected to be discussed. We believe, however, that this will not take off as China continues to assert its unilateral conditions disregarding the UNCLOS as a response to the US’ pivot. This is China’s strategy of containment as it tries to deter US’ influence and ensure its access to economic and natural resources in Asia Pacific. We demand East Asia leaders to uphold the law of commons and sovereignty of countries involved in territorial disputes.  We commit to work together to build a people-centered regional cooperation and integration architecture in our region.