Pakistan, Yemen, Philippines, and Dutch Foreign Ministers Headline Asia Society’s UNGA Week
NEW YORK, Sept. 27, 2023 — Over the course of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 78, Asia Society New York hosted senior UN officials and foreign dignitaries for a series of discussions, panels, and roundtables. Each year Asia Society puts on a series of special programs during the UNGA week, providing an opportunity to interact with global leaders.
Foreign Minister of Pakistan H.E. Jalil Abbas Jilani, joined Farwa Aamer, Asia Society Policy Institute’s Director of South Asia Initiatives for a conversation on Pakistan’s foreign policy.
The Foreign Minister of Yemen, H.E. Ahmed Awad BinMubarak; H.E. Liesje Schreinemacher, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands; William David Gressly, assistant secretary-general and resident humanitarian coordinator for Yemen; Timothy Lenderking, U.S. special envoy for Yemen; and Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, Al Arabiya News Channel’s Washington Bureau Chief, discussed the successful multi-national effort to avert environmental disaster in the Red Sea.
Experts and fellows from the Asia Society Policy Institute Center for China Analysis, including Bates Gill, Courtney Fung, and Taylah Bland unpacked how Beijing’s new proposal for the development of global governance would impact China’s priorities at UNGA78 prior to the country’s address to the UN on Thursday. Asia Society Policy Institute’s Daniel Russel and Jing Qian met with Vice President of the People’s Republic of China Han Zheng.
UNGA week activities concluded with a roundtable conversation on the future of the Indo-Pacific’s rules-based order with H.E. Enrique Manalo, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and Asia Society Policy Institute Vice President for International Security and Diplomacy Daniel Russel.
A Special Address by Jalil Jilani, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan — Sept. 19
In his address to Asia Society New York, FM Jalil Jilani discussed how relations with China and the U.S. are not a “zero sum game,” highlighting the importance of relations with both countries for Pakistan’s security and economy. He noted the importance of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor, which has generated jobs and helped alleviate Pakistan's energy shortage.
Jilani shared that Pakistan is close to hosting four million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, a result of the country’s “irreplicable” and “symbiotic relationship” with Afghanistan. Jilani noted Pakistan’s shared concern for the human rights situation in Afghanistan and encouraged other countries to “delink aid from political considerations.”
On the subject of relations with India, Jilani noted that “Pakistan desires peaceful and cooperative neighborly ties” but the situation in Jammu Kashmir has “further detoriated relations” between the two countries. He condemned India for “worsening religious extremism, especially against Muslims.” It is going to take leaders who are willing to make “bold decisions” to improve relations with India, says Jalil.
South Asia at UNGA 78
This year's United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convened South Asian nations once more in New York, offering a significant platform for assessing their progress and articulating national priorities, ahead of general elections for most of them. Amidst a backdrop of resurging geopolitical competition and the far-reaching impacts of global crises, a resounding call for peace and stability echoed throughout the assembly. All South Asian nations underscored their unwavering commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), despite formidable challenges posed by COVID-19 recovery and climate change, while also highlighting the necessity of international support.
Notably, a common thread emerged in the form of an earnest pursuit of economic transformation, with a shared emphasis on resource mobilization for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Climate change certainly assumed a central role with all countries demanding urgent action on climate finance instruments and the operationalization of loss and damage funds. The importance of international solidarity and cooperation was recognized as an indispensable approach to addressing the multifaceted challenges facing the South Asian region and the world at large.
For India, in particular, the UNGA served as a platform to build upon its successful G20 presidency, champion South-South cooperation, and assert the rightful role of the Global South in shaping the discourse on critical global issues
Farwa Aamer, Director of South Asian Initiatives, Asia Society Policy Institute
Averting Environmental Catastrophe in Yemen: Diplomatic Success Amidst a Civil War — Sept. 20
Last month, an UN-sponsored mission helped remove 1.1 billion barrels of oil from a decaying tanker called the FSO Safer in the Red Sea. U.S. special envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking noted that the tanker was “a ticking time bomb. But the fact that so many different quarters mobilized to prevent something from happening” helped prevent what would have been the fifth- largest oil spill of all time. It would have destroyed pristine reefs, coastal mangroves, and other sea-life across the Red Sea, exposing millions of people to highly polluted air and cutting off food and fuel to Yemen, where 17 million people already need food aid.
FM BinMubarak discussed how the FSO Safer operation can serve as a precedent for future multilateral cooperation: “This is a learning story, a learning story for all of us, that despite all the challenges that we have — if we focus on one certain thing and bring all the pieces together – we can make a success story.” David Gressly, humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, shared a similar sentiment: “I hope some kind of a blueprint can be drawn from both the funding and the coalition of this. There is a focus and determination that really came through.”
China at UNGA 78
At UNGA 78, China’s Vice President Han Zheng addressed the General Assembly. During his address, he presented a summarized version of China’s Proposal on the Reform and Development of Global Governance released a week prior. Unsurprisingly, central to his opening remarks were mentions of the Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI), and Global Civilization Initiative (GCI). Together, these form how President Xi “aims to build a community for a shared future for mankind. One that entails lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity in a world that is open, inclusive, and beautiful.” Details surrounding the operationalization and implementation of these initiatives were not revealed, leaving them still quite ambiguous.
In light of its 10-year anniversary, Zheng highlighted the impact that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has had and continues to have on the international community. Regarding climate change, Zheng reinforced China’s commitment to upholding the Paris Agreement but did not elaborate on any new initiatives or acceleration of agenda. Domestically, Zheng drew attention to the 20th Party Congress, emphasizing how the national rejuvenation of China is an inspirational blueprint for Chinese modernization and that the Chinese economy continues to be an integral part of the global economy. For the issue of Taiwan, hopes for peaceful reunification remain.
On human rights, Zheng stressed “that there is no one-size-fits-all model for promoting and protecting human rights.” This is echoed in the GCI and may represent the greatest difference of China’s approach to global governance.
Zheng did not mention the United States by name, instead referring to a “hegemonic power” that he reiterated China would never become. Underpinning his speech, was a reinforcement for the support of the United Nations. The importance of multilateralism, multipolarity and international cooperation and stability was a constant theme and one that seems to permeate through China’s global initiatives and plans for global governance.
Taylah Bland, Schwartzman Fellow, Center for China Analysis
A Special Conversation with Enrique Manalo, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines — Sept. 22
During a roundtable conversation led by Asia Society Policy Institute’s Daniel Russel, FM Enrique Manalo doubled down on the importance of countries respecting the international order: “As a maritime archipelagic nation, the Philippines counts on the rule of law.” He noted that “the Philippines continues to face challenges to its jurisdiction in the South China Sea,” amounting to “almost daily harassment” that has threatened the safety of personnel. While the Philippines wants to be friends with China, Manalo believes that “they’re not making it easy with these incidents.”
When asked about the state of U.S.-Philippine relations, Manalo noted that “on a scale of 10, our relationship with the U.S. is at a 9 something and we’re hoping to get to a 10.” One of his priorities for the future this relationship involves economic cooperation that keeps pace with defense-related activities, especially when it comes to investment in lithium battery manufacturing.
Manalo shared that the Philippines has enhanced relationships with a number of countries, including Japan, with whom they are in the process of negotiating an agreement similar to the one they have with Australia. Both Manalo and Russel spoke of the power of ASEAN, which now is the fifth-largest economy in the world. While ASEAN has conducted joint exercises in the South China Seas, some ASEAN members like Cambodia disagree with the Philippines and have prevented ASEAN from making a statement condemning Chinese activity in the grey zones.
Climate at UNGA 78
From a climate change perspective, UNGA week was dominated by two key themes, accountability and finance – both of which are expected to be central at the UN’s COP28 climate talks in Dubai this December. The UN Secretary-General’s Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday, September 20th anchored the week by providing a stage only for heads of state and nonstate leaders who qualified as “first movers and doers” to share their key climate actions. Ahead of the Summit, ASPI's High-level Policy Commission on Getting Asia To Net Zero released a report benchmarking the state of climate action in Asian economies against a series of criteria put forth by the UNSG earlier this year.
Notable contributions from Asian leaders at the Summit included Thailand, who announced ambitious plans to phase out coal-fired power by 2040, and the Marshall Islands, which shared its intention to join an alliance of countries working to phase out oil and gas production. The latter announcement reflects the growing willingness of politicians to call out the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis, with the UNSG criticizing the “naked greed” of fossil fuel interests and Tuvalu’s prime minister stating that fossil fuels undermine all seventeen SDGs, in a nod to the prominence of climate at the UN’s SDG Summit that had just wrapped up one day prior. Other leaders referenced the need to get more money to developing countries, including by reforming the international financial architecture and establishing a fund for loss and damage from climate impacts as was agreed at last year’s UN climate talks. Media also highlighted the notable absence of major emitters including China, the United States and India who did not meet the UNSG’s requirements to speak.
Kate Logan, Associate Director of Climate, ASPI, and Fellow, Center for China Analysis
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