Peace and development are twin concepts binding all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to cooperate. These concepts represent not only the aspiration and destiny of ASEAN as the most successful regional organization in Asia. They also determine the research paradigm of Southeast East Asian Studies in China viewed from the perspective of ASEAN and not from the ethnocentric if not colonial prism of Western scholarship.
It is difficult to imagine Southeast Asian Studies in China without ASEAN Studies. It is even harder to think of ASEAN without peace and development. Thus, scientific theories and research methods on peace and development inform the trajectories of Southeast Asian/ASEAN Studies in China including studies on regionalism and inter-regionalism, which in turn, affect the current state and direction of research on Philippines-China relations.
The ASEAN value of peace and development is found in various documents establishing the three pillars of ASEAN Community: political and security community, economic community and socio-cultural community. But the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia is one of the most important documents that officially articulate the legally binding commitment of ASEAN to promote regional cooperation in order to achieve peace and development among its members. The TAC is based on the following principles that can shape the ontology, epistemology and methodology of Southeast Asian/ASEAN Studies:
- Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations;
- The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;
- Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;
- Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means;
- Renunciation of the threat or use of force;
- Effective cooperation among themselves
China find these principles consistent with its independent foreign policy of peace, which upholds that “China is ready to establish and develop friendly relations of cooperation with all the countries on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.” Thus, China acceded to the TAC in 2003 to contribute not only to regional peace and development but also to promote friendlier relations with ASEAN members and their dialogue partners.
China’s accession to the TAC frames the disciplinary discussions on Southeast Asian Studies in China and even China Studies in Southeast Asia. The production of social science knowledge on Southeast Asia in China is difficult to undertake without academic research and studies on the TAC. Aside from being a legal document, the TAC has become the philosophical and theoretical foundation of Southeast Asian/ASEAN Studies and research on regionalism, inter-regionalism, and Philippines-China relations.
The TAC’s value of peace and development being championed by ASEAN are found in China’s three global initiatives: the Global Security Initiative (GSI), the Global Development Initiative (GDI), and the Global Civilizational Initiative (GCI). China’s three global initiatives aim to build a more secure, prosperous and harmonious world that is complimentary with ASEAN view of regional and global order.
The ASEAN value of peace and development, which is also advanced by China in its three global initiatives, can serve as the paradigm not only of Philippines-China friendly relations but also on the nature of academic research and scholarly study on their bilateral ties. For more than a millennium since the 7th century, Chinese and Filipinos have enjoyed peaceful and friendly relations as a result of trade and commercial activities. But there is still the lack of robust academic research examining the nature of their friendly ties during the ancient times.
Existing scholarly literatures indicated that ancient inhabitants of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao actively participated in Nanhai Trade recorded during the 9th and 16th centuries. The Nanhai Trade was the ancient commercial network between Chinese and Southeast Asian traders. There is still a great need to conduct further research on the Nanhai Trade, especially in the context of contemporary South China Sea Studies and Maritime Silk Road Studies.
The Tang Dynasty (spanning 7th to 9th century or 618-907 CE) has ancient records of Chinese trading activities with the people of Butuan, Manila, and Southern Luzon, among others. But scholars in China and the Philippines need further academic collaboration in order to enrich the production of knowledge about the historical foundation of Philippines-China friendly relations.
Existing studies said that the Kingdom of Butuan was the archipelago’s main trading post with records of commercial activities beginning in the 9th century while Ma-i (Mindoro or Bai Laguna) also served as a trading center with recorded commercial activities in the 10th century. Eventually, the Sultanate of Sulu in Mindanao, the Kingdom of Manila in and the Kingdom in Pangasinan of Northern Luzon became active in trade activities in Fujian and Guandong provinces of China recorded during the 11th and 15th centuries. Chinese and Filipino scholars and experts have to closely interface to encourage further academic exchanges to study and produce new knowledge on the historical basis of friendship between China and the Philippines.
Historical factors through trade and commerce deeply connect the Chinese and Filipinos. They share a very long documented common history of more than a millennium or 1,000 years. This established a very strong bond between Chinese and Filipinos resulting in the formation of intricate social relations and cultural familiarities between the two peoples.
In other words, Chinese and Filipinos shared a common past enjoying peace and development. As such, Chinese and Filipinos can also share the community of shared future for their people upholding common development and prosperity as well as pursuing collective security and building the foundation for world peace. Greater research is needed to have a deeper understanding of this shared past so Chinese and Filipinos can build a community of shared future.
At present, however, territorial disputes and maritime jurisdictional conflicts in the South China Sea (SCS), in general, and in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), in particular, are disrupting Philippines-China friendly ties. This can be attributed to the hegemony of Western narrative in framing and privileging the SCS/WPS issue in the context of territorial dispute, maritime jurisdictional conflict and great power competition. Chinese and Filipino scholars need to challenge the Western narrative to provide a more Asian perspective of SCS/WPS disputes under the wider rubric of Southeast Asian Studies emphasizing the need for amity and cooperation.
Based on our own narrative arising from documented ancient records in China and the Philippines, our common ancient history has demonstrated that the SCS is not the sea that divides our people. It is in fact the sea that should unite our nations for peace and common development connecting Chinese and Filipinos with the rest of Southeast Asian neighbors.
We need therefore to intensify our academic exchanges to inform our policy makers on how to unite our two friendly nations against the chains of misunderstanding. Our evidence-based research, scientific studies, and data-oriented publications can provide better understanding not only between our two nations but also among our Southeast Asian neighbors.
Scholars of China, the Philippines and Southeast Asia unite. We have nothing to lose but our misunderstanding.
Keynote Speech delivered at the international conference, “The Asian Pulse of Southeast Asian Studies: The Mutual Reference on Theory, Value and Methods” organized by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China on 27 August, 2023.