Use your ‘moral voice,’ Australia tells ASEAN

Paterno Esmaquel II
Use your ‘moral voice,’ Australia tells ASEAN
'Ten voices are more compelling than one,' Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says in Manila

MANILA, Philippines – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday, March 16, to use its “moral voice” to maintain peace in the region.  

“It is important to note that ASEAN is an institution celebrating its 50th year in 2017, and that it was established to preserve peace and stability in the region. This remains its most important mission,” Bishop said in the Philippines, which is chairing ASEAN this year.

“To that end, ASEAN should never underestimate the moral force it can exert in the form of collective diplomatic pressure on countries that might think or behave against that mission,” Bishop added.

Australia’s top diplomat spoke at an event organized by the Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRI), as part of her trip to the Philippines from March 15 to 17.

In her ADRI speech at the Peninsula Manila, Bishop pointed out that ASEAN has a combined gross domestic product or GDP of $2.5 trillion. 

With this, she said, “ASEAN has an opportunity to exercise far greater influence than its members can do so individually.”

“Ten voices are more compelling than one,” she added.

No to ‘might is right’

She also stressed the importance of “the international rules-based order” that counters “the ‘might is right’ doctrine of bygone eras.”

“The rules-based order is one in which, say, a country with a population of less than half a million people, such as Brunei, should have the same rights and privileges as the United States, China, Japan, and India, for example,” she explained.

Bishop added: “The order provides a framework within which disagreements can be resolved peacefully and according to rules and mechanisms that had been agreed upon, and are fair and objective. This includes the role of treaties, of international courts, and the role of independent arbitrators, who can peacefully resolve international disputes as a means of avoiding escalating tensions.”

Her statement on Thursday comes as China shows increasingly aggressive behavior in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Recently, ASEAN foreign ministers expressed “grave concern” over China’s reported militarization of the West Philippine Sea. China blasted then-Philippine foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr for making these “baffling and regrettable words” on behalf of ASEAN. –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at