A conversation with Georgetown University students

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Last Wednesday, I had a virtual conversation with students of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Dr. Lynn Kuok, a visiting professor at the university, invited me to speak to her students. She is handling the course entitled “The Law of the Sea and the Politics and Security of East Asia.”

Dr. Kuok is a highly respected individual and an authority on key issues in the Asia-Pacific region such as politics and security. Her impressive credentials – which include fellowships at Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, the Harvard Kennedy School, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for International Law at the National University of Singapore – make her a highly sought-after speaker at international conferences as well as a resource person for interviews with broadcast and print media like the BBC, CNBC, Al Jazeera and The New York Times.

Georgetown University is one of the oldest Catholic and Jesuit schools in the United States, just like my grade school and high school alma mater, Ateneo. Many of Georgetown’s alumni become diplomats and leaders, one of the most prominent being former US president Bill Clinton, who is a graduate of the School of Foreign Service.

The discussion with Professor Kuok’s students – who are all taking masteral studies and come from various countries such as Japan, Thailand and Taiwan – was very lively and engaging. They asked incisive questions that showed their keen interest on the developments in the South China Sea, the Philippines’ perspective and the relationship between China and ASEAN member-nations.

I told them that the Philippine position with regard to the South China Sea remains firm – that we are not giving up the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that rejected China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea as having no basis in law. President Duterte articulated this during the UN General Assembly when he said that the arbitral award is “now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” and that the Philippines firmly rejects attempts to undermine the ruling.

I emphasized, however, that we must maintain good relations with all our Asian neighbors, including China, an economic powerhouse and one of our top trade partners. We want to resolve issues peacefully in accordance with international law. We also believe in cooperating with ASEAN member-nations on finishing the negotiations for a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, which I believe is the first step towards achieving peace in the region.

If Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wins, his foreign policy advisers tell us that US policy in the South China Sea will remain the same, recognizing the Philippines’ arbitral award which is very important in advancing a rules-based international order, where disputes must be resolved in a peaceful manner to maintain peace and stability in the region.

My experience with young people is that they are very much attuned to worldwide events and are focused on the effects of the global pandemic that has changed life as we know it. While the COVID-19 crisis has impacted many sectors of society, it is the youth and the generations to come who will have to bear the economic, social and other long-term consequences of this pandemic.

One thing I told the Georgetown University students regarding the realizations brought about by the pandemic is that we live in a global world where interdependence and cooperation is necessary to fight a major crisis like COVID-19. We all live on the same planet and, if anything, the current situation has only underscored the fact that no country in the world is immune from major health threats.

Now more than ever, I strongly believe that all nations must work together, especially on issues like climate change and global warming, because these obviously impact infectious diseases and increase their prevalence, based on research conducted by a team of ecologists, veterinarians, scientists and health experts from several universities in the US. Last year for instance saw multiple outbreaks of dengue fever due to rising temperatures across countries in Asia and the Americas that allowed dengue mosquitoes to thrive and breed in new areas.

It was very refreshing to engage in a discussion with the Georgetown University students, who could become the world’s future diplomats and leaders. The type of virtual meetings enabled by Zoom are extremely practical because they make such discussions more focused and engaging.

I have been in a number of virtual forums as a panelist and I think this should continue even post-pandemic, primarily because geographical distance is no longer a barrier as virtual meetings allow people from different parts of the world to participate in the discussion.

This was the case with my virtual talk organized by Silliman University’s School of Public Administration and Governance (SPAG) Society, with discussions touching on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the alliance between the Philippines and the US and our pursuit of an independent foreign policy.

I told the students, the faculty and SPAG Society members that just like any country, the Philippines also has its own interests to protect. We have to do what is best for us because – and I always say this – walang tutulong sa Filipino kung hindi kapwa Filipino (only a Filipino will help a fellow Filipino). Which is why during these critical times in our country’s history, we must remain united. We should set aside political colors because the only colors that matter are the united colors of our flag – red, yellow, white and blue.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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