The European Studies Council at the MacMillan Center held a roundtable event on Sept. 12, titled “Maintaining International Peace and Security: Visions from the Regions,” featuring
Ambassador Teodoro Lopez Locsin Jr., Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Philippines to the UN, and Ambassador Darja Bavdaž Kuret, Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the UN. (View Roundtable)
The event was moderated by Senior Fellow and Lecturer Yuriy Sergeyev, who has served as Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN. Due to inclement weather, Ambassadors Volodymyr Yelchenko, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN, and Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States to the UN, were unable to attend as scheduled.
Ambassador Kuret kicked off the roundtable discussion with a brief presentation highlighting historical and contemporary tensions in the West Balkans, as well as the role Slovenia—the first country from former Yugoslavia to become a European Union Member State—plays in mediating between partners in the region and the EU against the backdrop of a fraught political landscape.
“Western Balkans is for Slovenia one of the highest priorities in foreign policy,” she said, addressing the audience. “It is our immediate neighbor.”
The Ambassador from Slovenia argued strongly in favor of the enlargement of the European Union to include West Balkan nation states, describing the EU as a “unique entity” where citizens are free to express themselves. However, she noted, the process of EU enlargement has been slow due to a number of issues, including but not limited to: European fatigue after a large wave of enlargement in 2004; the aftermath of the financial crisis which hit Europe from 2007-09; concerns pertaining to migration flow and refugee crises; and, of course, Brexit.
Ambassador Kuret also shed light on some of the current issues facing West Balkan countries, such as brain drain, political volatility, and growing nationalist rhetoric.
“[The] Enlargement process of the Western Balkans is not proceeding as fast as we wish,” she said, adding that in spite of this fact there remains strong political will.
After she concluded her presentation, the Ambassador fielded questions from audience members, who asked about the impact of Russia on the EU enlargement process, as well as how Slovenia’s leadership is perceived among countries for which it advocates, among other queries. Professor Sergeyev also offered some brief remarks on the Ambassador’s presentation, noting in particular that Slovenia’s example is “attractive for the rest of the countries in the region.”
The floor was then opened to Ambassador Teodoro Lopez Locsin Jr., Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Philippines to the UN. Over the course of a brief presentation, Ambassador Locsin discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea, focusing in particular on tensions between the People’s Republic of China and smaller neighboring countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as the role of the U.S. in the region. The Ambassador was highly critical of China’s actions, saying that the nine-dash line area claimed by China, which covers most of the South China Sea, infringes on the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, as well as that of other countries. Additionally, he voiced concerns over China’s construction of military and industrial outposts on artificial islands it has built in the disputed waters, by, for instance, piling sand onto existing reefs claimed by the Philippines and other neighbors.
In July 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled against China’s maritime claims in Philippines v. China. However, the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan stated that they did not recognize the tribunal, insisting instead that the matter be resolved through bilateral negotiations.
Despite his impassioned criticism of China during his presentation, the Ambassador concluded on a somewhat conciliatory note, remarking that while the government of the Philippines often feels vexed about the situation in the South China Sea, officials still reach out to the Chinese government, and will likely continue to do so.
“These are my views,” Ambassador Locsin said, regarding his presentation. “My government now is reaching out to China, and at the same time it gets mad at China… there is a Phillipino-Chinese expression: ‘hit-embrace, hit-embrace.’”
“The way to survive as a minority is to embrace the guys in the majority and hit them when they overdo it. It’s an Asian thing,” he added, with a laugh.
After fielding questions from the audience, the ambassador left the floor to Professor Sergeyev, who spoke briefly about Russia-Ukraine relations before offering concluding remarks. The event was the first in a series of roundtable discussions to be held this semester. The full schedule can be seen here.
Written by Zainab Hamid, Timothy Dwight College, Class of 2019.