Regional alliances ‘natural response’ to developments

TEHRAN, Aug. 19 (MNA) – Philippines’ ambassador to Tehran has sat in an interview to Mehr News International Service to address the most recent developments in Southeast Asia.

Mehr News International asked Eduardo Martin Menez about recent US-China relations over the latter’s ambitions in South China See, and possible implications for the whole arrangement of coalitions in the Southeast Asian region. In the interview, Payman Yazdani and Javad Heirania participated:

How serious do you see the tensions between the US and China in the South China Sea?

The main actors in this issue with regard to certain maritime features in the South China Sea or West Philippines Sea, in the case of Philippines, actually are the climate states and in this particular situation to Philippines and China, but in other parts of the area Vietnam is also involved to win its own area with China, Malaysia also has some claims and even Taiwan is also involved in this discussion.

But in so far as the US is concerned. It has stated in many articles and other countries as well have stated that the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is a concern of not only the countries within that region but also of other countries whose ships and international trade transit through that area. And if you look at the maritime traffic within the South China Sea there is a figure that says about 70 percent of all maritime trips particularly between Asia and the rest of the world pass through this region. And therefore, any excessive claims to that area is a matter of concern. In particular, if you look at what China is claiming, the Nine-Dash Line theory that they are using for the basis of their claim covers about 90 percent of the South China Sea. It is a U-shaped drawing on the map which is most of the central portion of the South China Sea and well within the 200, not to combine exclusive economic zone of littoral states like Vietnam and the Philippines and other states on the southern part. And therefore, there is a natural deep concern by the countries such as the Philippines on this encroachment in what the international law has already defined as what is illegal and the legal limits of the territory of a country. As I said, the excessive claim of China is not something that you will see in other parts of the world, for example we have the Persian Gulf; but Iran is not claiming 90 percent of it; we have the Indian Ocean but India is not claiming 90 percent of it; and both India and Iran also have ancient civilizations that, in the past, may have used these seas or these bodies of the water for trade and their empires may have even covered these other countries which are now independent and equal countries within the region.


As you know, the US has announced that it's going to shift its policy focus from Middle East to Asia, especially into Southeast Asia. What is the importance of Asia for the US that forces it to shift its focus from Middle East to there?

I can only give my impression of what the US reasons are for shifting its pivot to Asia. If you have read the statements of the officials of the US and have read articles in the international relations journals and magazines I believe the US has made an analysis of its future strategic interests on the global scale and many experts have already said for many years that the 21st century will be a century of the Pacific. And the engines of growth are shifting away from the west, Europe and the US to the emerging economies in Asia in particular, with China being the number one engine of growth, but of course you also have Japan, S. Korea and India which all are major economic powers, and in the case of China and India the largest consumer markets in the world. So, if you compare the future growth areas, or growth in economies in the regions, the US, I think, feels that there is a greater impact on its national interest to engage itself more with the countries of that region. I think even though the pivot to Asia is ongoing, I still believe in the importance of the region (Middle East or the Western Asia). I think any country that has any global ambitions cannot discount any particular region. It shows that the focus may change but they will still have residual interests within this region. And if you look at the statements and the pronouncements and the actions of the US, it seems they are very interested; the Obama administration has consciously tried to disengage particularly from the conflicts in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But if you look at the developments, I think they are now passing the burden of maintaining security and stability in the region to other countries in the region. You have a traditional analysis of the US, primarily the [Persian] Gulf States and Israel, but the recent nuclear agreement that was concluded between P5+1 and Iran is perhaps another evidence of [the fact that] not only the US, but also other western recalibration of the status of relations within this region (and so now we will see) will show Iran as a regional player, not because other countries are leaving, but for its own national interest. It is in Iran's favor to play stabilizing role within the region and that is why it is important. What the foreign secretary Zarif is now doing is visiting the Persian Gulf neighbors, is to try and reassure them that Iran's intentions within the region are not in what anyone else outside of Iran seems to be saying that Iran is expansionist, it has other agenda; that it wants to pursue to the detriment of its neighbors.

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Regarding the differences between the US and China in Southeast Asia, do you think these tensions will finally results in new alliances in the region, for example the alliance of US and India against China?

Again, I'm not speaking for the US government; however, it is a very interesting situation now in international relations and indeed the so-called realignments are being discussed by Think Tanks. And It's not only the realignments within Asia but also all around the world; we are moving from a bipolar to a multipolar situation and I'm sure that the US will say that they are not, and  they have said this in many of their public statements, that they would not consider China as an enemy and  in fact they consider China as a partner, just as the Philippines that does not consider China as an enemy, you know China is one of the largest, if not the largest trade partner, just like it is for Iran, and the same for the US, the US and China are major trade partners. I think China owns maybe the largest amount of US debts. So, (to paraphrase your Iranian negotiators), I think most countries in the region are looking for a win-win situation. The US and other countries are concerned about Chinese actions perhaps in the security realm that China and other countries in the region have definitely had disagreements about asserted issues with regard to territory, but that does not mean that the people [would] say the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It's not that way.  Although it is natural for all countries to seek better relations with all countries in a certain region, so if the US is exhibiting some close relations with India, it's also because India is a very large and important economic player; so unless the security issues escalate to the point where there is armed conflict, then countries will need to examine the relations and decide if certain coalition needed to be organized, but at this particular moment I don't think there is any desire by any of the countries involved for this to reach that point where you call another country as an enemy.


Recently, Japanese parliament approved a bill that would let Japan’s military forces to carry out mission outside the country. This is for the first time that Japan parliament does this after the Second World War. What are the reasons behind this decision?

Again if you've read the articles and study the statements of the Japanese government, the position of the government of PM. Abe is that Japan’s national interest for the time being calls for a change in the security stance of Japan. The Japanese constitution is a document that was actually prepared by US and given to Japan after the Second World War and within that constitution it provides that its military forces are purely for defensive purposes. So I believe that the Japanese government feels that the conditions in the region and Japan’s national interest in 1945, which is exactly 70 years ago, are different from what the situation is in present-day Asia. Japan is now a major world economy. It is one of the major Asian powers. And if you look at, it may be the only Asian power that does not have a military with an external dimension. If you look at China, the biggest example, but even the countries like Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea, all their militaries of course have external function to defend the territory of their own country. So, I think that the Japanese government feels as a major power perhaps it is just a natural progression for Japan to contribute to its own security and even to the region, because of the current situation, in many countries, recent regional security arrangements are the natural occurrences. You have the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); you used to have a central treaty organization as well here for security issues and many countries have bilateral or multilateral military agreements with other countries. Iran itself has I think agreed to cooperate militarily with other countries. So, I think for Japan it's just coming of age that their military capabilities are to be upgraded in term of its responsibilities as regional powers as well. Of course many people say this is because of China, but that might be a side effect but I cannot speak for the Japanese government.


End of Part One

Interview by: Payman Yazdani /  Javad Heirania


News Code 109339


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