Wednesday, November 11, 2015

No more swivel chairs for world leaders attending APEC Summit in Manila

PH Pres. Benigno Aquino III inspects APEC venue. Photo: Malacanang
In one of its front page trivia, the Philippines News Agency came out with a news dispatch which states that the 21 world leaders who are set to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila on November 17, 2015, would be using fixed chairs, instead of the normal swivel chairs that allow the leader to have the freedom to turn around whenever he wants to do so during formal sessions.

Admittedly, this news story is new. And this is the first time that a host country like the Philippines has used this new strategy to perhaps, curtail the bad mannerism of a particular world leader. To some, this might be misconstrued as an unacceptable imposition of something beyond human rational behavior. If it is, I simply don't agree with this view.

What is really the essence why the host country decides to deviate from using the usual swivel chair? In his words, Philippines' Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. was quoted as saying: "They use fixed chairs to enable leaders to easily talk to those seated beside them. It keeps a leader from turning his back on
someone or talking behind the back of somebody else."

Coloma made the statement when he inspected the World Trade Center along Roxas Boulevard, which will be used as the working venue for international media representatives who are accredited to attend the 2015 APEC Summit in Manila next week.

Coloma added that sitting on fixed chairs indicates "openness" among heads of states.

Whoever initiated this rare idea, I can only wish that the world leaders will come to terms with reality.

I'm not new to attending a big international event such as the APEC Summit. If I wasn't mistaken, I attended one in Bali, Indonesia and, of course, the one held in Manila on November 25, 1996. I was supposed to attend another one in Vietnam but my name was eventually deleted due to internal politics in the bureau.

If I remember it right, the leaders adopted the Manila Action Plan for APEC (MAPA), which includes individual and collective action plans to achieve the Bogor goals of free and open trade and investment by 2010 and 2020.

At the same time, the Leaders meeting also endorsed the Information Technology Agreement which led to the conclusion of the agreement in the WTO.  "Leaders endorsed the focus of APEC's economic and technical cooperation activities into six areas: developing human capital, fostering safe and efficient capital markets, strengthening economic infrastructure, harnessing technologies of the future, promoting environmentally sustainable growth, and encouraging the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises."

Based on the above, I hadn't noticed any suggestion that would impinge on discussing the sensitive issue of the South China Sea, which is now causing so much brouhaha in Asia, if not the world. In fact, only six areas of economic and technical cooperation were included in the agenda. But why did the organizers miss to include such issue then? Was it because of its sensitivity? Or they just didn't want China to be infuriated so that they deliberately forgot about it?

Now, I wouldn't be surprised at all why China, which is participating in this week's Manila APEC Summit, couldn't be blamed as to what's transpiring in the South China Sea. Over the years, China always believed that it has the sole jurisdiction of almost all the islands, islets, reefs and atolls in the South China Sea, because nobody at that time came forward to sound the alarm.

Next week, China's leader President Xi Jinping has committed himself to attend the APEC Summit in Manila. Already, foreign affairs officials had appealed to the protestors not to lambast or insult the Chinese leader. In fact, a foreign affairs official said that it is not a welcome idea to hurl insults against China while its leader is attending the APEC summit. In short, the DFA official is calling on all Filipinos to show respect to all the leaders and delegates who were invited to see for themselves the hospitality  and beauty of the Philippines.

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