Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe that I do not want it.
Now I understand 
why the old poets of China went so far
and high 
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.
"The Old Poets of China" by Mary Oliver

Dr. Aileen S.P. Baviera, Professor and former Dean of the UP Asian Center, passed away in the early morning of 21 March 2020. She was 60.

Wherever my career path took me – at one time or another as an academic, an armchair activist, a government analyst, an author, an editor, a policy adviser, a public speaker on international relations, an advocate of people’s diplomacy, a keen observer of global affairs—sometimes nationalist, sometimes internationalist—China always rose to the front and center of my work, she wrote.

Forty years of China-watching made her one of the foremost China specialists in the Philippines. She leaves behind an extensive publication record on contemporary Chinese politics, China-Southeast Asia relations, Asia-Pacific security, and regional integration. The work of an indefatigable scholar, this intellectual output has been nothing less than prodigious.

A thorough assessment of her writings—changes and continuities, among other things—is not possible at this point, not least because it will take time to read them separately and collectively, to say nothing of close analysis. Even so, to appreciate the legacy of Professor Baviera, one must look to the opening words of her October 2019 essay, with which I began this article. Describing herself as an "academic, an armchair activist, a government analyst, an author, an editor, a policy adviser, a public speaker on international relations, an advocate of people’s diplomacy, a keen observer of global affairs—sometimes nationalist, sometimes internationalist," she lived a multilateral life.

Benedict Anderson, with whom she incidentally shares a birthday, entitled his memoirs, A Life Beyond Boundaries. The phrase captures her multilateral legacy. In her own way, Dr. Baviera crossed boundaries (literal and metaphorical), and never restricted her outlook to that of the state, civil society, nation, region, government, or academe. By no means did she not appreciate each of these perspectives. On the contrary, as someone who said, "simplistic thinking will not do," she always saw things from these multiple vantage points, and this was reflected in her illustrious scholarship; in her efforts to build networks and relations with different sectors; and in her relaxed, but steady and confident prose; her personality mirrored her writing style—calm and balanced.

Ever a civil servant and once a member of the foreign policy establishment, she was part of the state, and directed her analysis thereto. At the same time, as a few of her works show, she could be critical of the state itself, and not just of its policies, and strove to practice a diplomacy that accounted for non-state actors. She loved the Philippines, but as an area studies specialist, she always saw it in light of regional and global developments. She was an academic, but went out of her way to engage and bridge the university, government, and civil society. Even in her foreign policy analysis, such as her book chapter in Bilateralism, Multilateralism and Asia-Pacific Security (2013), she understood and appreciated both bilateral and multilateral means in managing territorial disputes. She balanced her passionate commitment to the Filipino people, her pursuit of scholarly objectivity, and her trademark approach of "understanding and engaging with the many perspectives that shape and balance our understanding of, and response to critical issues," which Professor Caitlin Byrne of Griffith Asia Institute noted.

Thus, while she was understandably known as a China specialist or as a resource person on the South China Sea disputes, she was much else besides. At the very least, there was much depth and complexity in her scholarly and practical interests.

Domestic Interests: Writing for the Filipino People

Not many can match Dr. Baviera's expertise on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. As a friend once said (words to the following effect), "kahit pagbali-baligtarin mo yung issue, hindi mo siya mapapaikot." (roughly, no matter how much you shuffle the issue, you won't be able to pull a fast one on her). Among her numerous publications on the disputes, several stand out. A year after the Scarborough Shoal standoff, she came out, with Dr. Jay BatongbacalThe West Philippine Sea: The Territorial and Maritime Jurisdiction Disputes from a Filipino Perspective (2013). It is a free 81-page PDF primer that offers ‘a simplified and objective rendering of the historical background, current conditions, pertinent issues and policy questions regarding the territorial and maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.’

The primer was not just a scholarly work, however. It was also, more importantly, illustrative of her commitment to the Filipino people. The primer 'focuses on information....most important and of interest to citizens of this country, rather than information that may be highlighted by various foreign authors, organizations, or governments.'

Even when she was writing about China, ASEAN, or global geopolitics, she always had the Philippines in mind, even if it did not always appear in all her writings. In a book chapter, Domestic Mediations of China’s Influence in the Philippines, she examines the extent of Chinese impact on Philippine foreign policy by looking at three case studies: the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking, the NBN-ZTE Agreement, and the Scarborough Shoal standoff. Published in Rising China's influence in Developing Asia (2016), the article concludes that

how China’s power translates into influence (defined as changing the outcomes to favour one’s interests) depends less on the amount of power than it does on other factors including its successful cultivation of allies among members of the Philippine political elite and whether or not there are countervailing sources of influence at the systemic level…. (127).

Dr. Baviera finds that “Philippine foreign policy decisions ... were responsive to persuasion and inducements by China when elite networks prevailed...but political actors and interest groups not in favor of Chinese interests can quickly block China’s channels of influence." (C)oercion and intimidation played a more important role when China perceived high strategic stakes with the involvement of the U.S. But in each of the cases, "the Philippines has not been so helpless in the face of China’s superior resources, and Chinese influence is not as efficacious as might be deduced from the scale of power asymmetry alone” (127–28). A similar, earlier analysis was published in the journal, Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints as Domestic Interests and Foreign Policy in China and the Philippines: Implications for the South China Sea Disputes (2014).

Shifting away from the Philippine political elite, she inquired in a Public Policy article (2015) whether, how and to what extent Philippine foreign policy decisions affected domestic stakeholders—defense and maritime law enforcement frontliners, provincial and municipal governments, fishing communities and companies, energy players, and the Chinese Filipino community, among others.

Conducting extensive field work, Dr. Baviera notes, among other things, the “poor coordination” between the central and local governments such Kalayaan Municipality; Masinloc, Zambales; and Infanta, Pangasinan. “Local government executives of frontline provinces take little interest in the broader foreign policy goals of the state,” (25) while state leaders rarely capitalize on the knowledge and capacities of local governments, who are better informed and well-placed to respond to local realities. See her sobering observations for the other stakeholders.

Her Filpino-centric perspective shone through in many other publications, such as "Defining the National Territory: Security and Foreign Relations Dimensions" (2015). In this respect, she exemplified the advice she gave to "younger China watchers" in October 2019. “….in the context of recent years’ difficult relations between the two states: if one has to take a side, one must take the side of the Filipino people....The Philippines, on the other hand, will have only us Filipinos to defend our interests and to promote our welfare." 

Critique of the State

In looking at the domestic stakeholders in the disputes, she was advocating for a people's diplomacy, and essentially offered a critique of state policy. Indeed, in an essay in November 2016, Can Anyone Really Rule the South China Sea?, she wrote that the disputes arose precisely because of the nature of states.

It seems that governments have let their primordial territorial instincts rule them. There is folly in this. They seek control of the waters, as if oceans could be tamed, claimed and fenced off like the land. In truth, no one knows exactly what they are claiming.....

Recently, I was on a six-day cruise in the East China Sea that started in Shanghai and docked in Okinawa, Nagasaki and Fukuoka.....When not conferencing on the boat, I spent some time on deck watching the sun rise from the sea and set into the sea, day after day.

Looking out into the seemingly limitless ocean, one could not help but have a sense of being free from territorial boundaries. I thought of how being creatures of the land has taught most of us to think in terms of the state and its narrow interests. Just exactly at such a moment, another passenger standing beside me - also looking out at sea - nodded his head in one direction and said: "That is where the Senkakus are, not too far from here. That is where Japan and China might yet end up having a war over their contested islands."

I envy the free creatures of the sea, for we creatures of the land have become captive of our own illusions of conquest and control.

This is one of her more lyrical, even literary pieces. Her academic prose always had a flowing quality, even as it was formal, rigorous, and scholarly, but this essay took a different, even lighter tone, and had more than a refreshing touch of Romanticism. Most of all, it echoed the anarchist critique of the state. Foreign policy was often state-centric, but she could retain enough distance to be able to problematize it and see its limitations.

Seeking Dialogue

Dr. Baviera's commitment to national interests was matched by an equal passion to enhance Philippines-China relations. As a scholar-diplomat, she organized and took part in many dialogues over the years, meeting with Chinese scholars and officials, speaking in various conferences in China and the Philippines, and even inviting Chinese academics to deliver two lectures on Chinese foreign policy at the UP Asian Center in May 2017. Reflecting on her long productive career, in 2019 she wrote:

I worked with fellow China-watchers in the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and Philippines-China Development Resource Center to help strengthen civil society linkages, including with groups like the Nanjing-based Amity Foundation and the China Association for NGO Cooperation.

Similar efforts continued under Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, Inc. (APPFI) which she established in 2014 to help promote, among others, 'future-oriented, people-centered, peaceful and independent Philippine foreign relations.' As President and CEO of APPFI, she wanted it to 'develop issue-based partnerships and networks among governmental and non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and academic institutions in the Philippines and the Asia Pacific.' Among other projects, Dr. Baviera 'worked closely with the Stable Seas Program' of One Earth Future 'to convert the Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Sea report into something that would become a foundation for direct policy engagement.' Many of these and other similar initiatives can be found in the APPFI website.

With her extensive network and expertise, she was frequently invited by many organizations to serve as consultant, advisor, or speaker, including the Philippine Navy, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the China Association for NGO Cooperation and the International network of East Asian Studies Academic Programs, to say nothing of international conferences abroad. Dr. Baviera was a member of the Board of Advisers of the Philippine Navy.

Regional and Long-Term Perspectives

In many ways, Dr. Baviera’s publications serve as a reflection of, and a response to, the evolution of Philippines-China relations since the 1980s, as well as of ASEAN diplomacy, Philippine foreign policy, and broader geopolitical trends since the Cold War. From Managing Territorial Disputes (1997) to Philippine Domestic Interest Groups’ Perceptions of China’s Rise and the International Environment (2018), one can also glimpse the vicissitudes of different foreign policy regimes from Ferdinand Marcos to Rodrigo Duterte. If the Domestic Mediations (2016) article illustrated her engagement with the Arroyo administration's China policy,  the Domestic Stakeholders article and The South China Sea: The Way Forward Post-Arbitration (2017) exemplified her analysis of Philippines-China relations under the Aquino and the Duterte Administrations. In these and other publications, she shared her insights and recommendations to critique and help guide Philippine foreign policy. 

Having studied Philippine foreign relations, and ASEAN diplomacy for four decades, she always wrote with the longue durée in mind, even if that history did not always come to the fore in her work. Her immersion in the history of her field (s) is exemplified in a 2017 publication, where she compiled various sources to produce a table that identifies "ASEAN’s Role in the Changing Security Environment of Southeast Asia, 1967–2017. The table appears on page five of an integrative chapter, "Preventing War, Building a Rules-based Order: Challenges Facing the ASEAN Political–Security Community," in Building ASEAN Community: Political-Security and Socio-Cultural Reflections, which she co-edited.

Trained in area studies at the UP Asian Center, she always saw the big picture, and never lost sight of the regional and global contexts of her work. She infused her incisive takes on Philippines-China relations with an intimate familiarity with geopolitics, including U.S foreign policy in Asia and China’s relations with ASEAN member states. Apart from her PhD dissertation, "Post-Cold War China-ASEAN relations: Exploring Worldview Convergence and its Security Implications," two other works stand out: ‘Challenging Geopolitical Seascapes: Southeast Asia and the Big Powers in the South China Sea’ (2017) and ‘Changing Dynamics in Philippines-China-U.S. Relations: The Impact of the South China Sea Disputes’ (2015).

Policy Making in Government

Her stint in government policy making in the 1990s gave depth and authority to much of her writing. At the Foreign Service Institute, she became the Head of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies. In this capacity, she interacted with diplomats, and saw policy making up close. She learned much from Rodolfo Severino, who invited her to be an "adviser on China matters"  amidst China's occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995. In her tribute to Severino, who passed away in April 2019 and also served as Secretary General of ASEAN, Professor Baviera wrote, "...he was to me an inspiration and a source of learning for what Philippine diplomacy should be like, now in the future." She notes how he spoke of:

"'concentric circles' of Philippine foreign policy—about how our national interests were most deeply intertwined with those geographically closest to us, with the first circle involving Malaysia (where he also served as Philippine Ambassador), and Indonesia (where as Secretary-General he presided over the ASEAN at its Jakarta headquarters). Today, the three countries’ ongoing efforts at cooperation – especially on boundary issues, maritime security and countering violent extremism—underscore this.

This concept of concentric circles would later find echoes, if not direct parallels, in her own approach—seeking dialogue and seeing things from multiple perspectives—to foreign policy analysis and diplomacy. Apart from the formative experience of working at FSI, she also helped chronicle the story of Philippine foreign relations. She co-edited Philippine External Relations: A Centennial Vista (1998) a must-read for anyone studying the diplomatic history of the Philippines, according to Dr. Ariel Lopez, who read the book when he was a history undergrad in UP Diliman.

A Country Specialist: A China Major

For all her expertise in regionalism, diplomacy, and global affairs, Professor Baviera did have a "narrow" country focus: as many know, she specialized on China, specifically on politics and foreign policy. After graduating from university, she studied there for two years in the early 1980s, just a few years after Deng Xiaoping rose to power. She was thus a witness to a country on its initial steps towards becoming a regional, and eventually, a global power. Chronicled in her October 2019 essay, this experience was crucial to her development as a scholar, not least because it gave her a historical background with which she could compare later developments in China's history. Back home, she finished in 1987 her masters thesis at the UP Asian Center, Rural Economic Reforms in China, 1979–1984, which sought, among other things, to account for the country's transformation after 1978.

Several of her early publications on China, edited or self-authored, came when she was working at the Philippine-China Development Resource Center in the 1990s. Notable here is Black Cat, White Cat: An Inside View of Reform & Revolution in China, edited with Theresa Carino and published in 1993. By the time she joined the UP Asian Center as a faculty member in 1998, she was already a China expert. Over the years, she taught the Politics and Governance in China course in the UP Asian Center, and kept abreast of political developments in the country. In July 2017, she lectured on China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI), China's Belt and Road: Vision and Implemetation. The PowerPoint presentation—a superb overview of the BRI—can be accessed for free. A more comprehensive summary of Chinese foreign policy initiatives until 2016 can be found in her article (open access), China's Strategic Foreign Initiatives under Xi Jinping: An ASEAN Perspective (2016).

Her greatest scholarly contribution arguably lies in her advancement of China Studies in the Philippines since the 1990s. She was one of thirteen senior China specialists interviewed for the book, China Studies in the Philippines: Intellectual Paths and the Formation of a Field (2019), edited by her Asian Center colleague and fellow China scholar, Dr. Tina Clemente. In that February 2016 interview, part of a Global Oral History project by National Taiwan University, Dr. Baviera shares how she got interested in China, her studies in the country from 1981 to 1983, her development as a China Studies scholar, and her valuable comments on the origins, evolution, and current state of China Studies in the Philippines. Asked about the future of the discipline in the country, she said:

.....I think it is important to put more China content across different fields so that a broad range of stakeholders will come to appreciate the different aspects of China. For instance, increased attention can be given to the impact of China to regional and global economy, as well as business skills, techniques, and negotiation styles necessary in dealing with Chinese business people. It is not just simply the setting up of China Studies programs. Aside from that, there is also a need to strengthen China Studies program at the graduate level. Organizations promoting or advancing China Studies, like PACS, should have an institutional base for them to grow. The private sector should be mobilized to support the academe. The goal is to publish more original research and come up with research-based analyses and recommendations. Relationships between those who produce research and its end users must be institutionalized. Right now, linkages between the bureaucracy and the academe are not institutionalized although there are instances when government agencies actively engage other stakeholders in the performance of their duties.

At the UP Asian Center: Ma'am Aileen

Dr. Baviera taught in the Department of Political Science, UP Diliman and of the Ateneo de Manila University, before joining the UP Asian Center in 1998. As Dean from 2003 to 2009, she was instrumental in the overhaul of the curriculum of the Asian Studies graduate program, which shifted from a traditional country-focus to an approach that stresses themes and issues across each region of Asia. She also contributed to several UP Asian Center publications. She edited Regional Security in East Asia: Challenges to Cooperation and Community Building (2008) and co-edited (with Dr. Tina Clemente) an issue of Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia devoted to Emerging Asian Communities in the Philippines. Three of her publications saw print in the journal: "Managing Territorial Disputes" (1997), "Philippines China Relations in the 20th Century: History versus Strategy" (2000), and "The China Challenge to ASEAN Solidarity: The Case of the South China Sea Disputes" (2002), all open access. Together with Caroline Hau, she also wrote a chapter, "Individual, Ethnic and National Identity in the Age of Globalization: The Case of the Ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia," for the book, Going Global: Asian Societies on the Cusp of Change (2001).

As Professor of Asian Studies, she mentored many students, many of whom have expressed their sorrow and fond recollections on social media. One alumna, Katrina Navallo, recalls the intimidation she felt in a Research Methods class taught by Dr. Baviera, who, she knew, had such a high stature in Philippine academe. She was not a “terror professor…but it was just because of so much respect and inspiration she draws….. she has always been a figure to look up to.”

That “intimidation” is belied by her kindness to students and colleagues. Sascha Gallardo, who worked with Dr. Baviera in the UP Asian Center from 2011 to 2019, writes, “There are so many things I thank Ma’am Aileen for, and I’m glad I was able to tell her that. In 2012, we had to vacate our apartment, and couldn’t find a new place to stay, and she told us that we could stay at her house as we did our search. And when somebody broke into my apartment in 2018, she asked me if I needed anything.”

A new generation of China specialists and area studies graduate students benefited from her guidance in and out of the UP Asian Center. “Dr. Baviera believed and never gave up on me and in my dreams of finishing my MA degree,” says Charles de Guzman, who wrote his thesis under her supervision. Ivy Ganadillo, another China major, sums up what Dr. Baviera meant to her, “She was a mother to me.” Many of her other students, even non-China majors, learned much from her.

A colleague, Lilia Marquez, now Administrative Officer of the UP Asian Center, recalls: 

Ma'am Aileen was not just a good administrator but a friend as well. I will never forget the support and kindness she showed me while I was still caring for my parents. When we cross paths, she would always ask "Kamusta parents mo? Ikaw? dapat malakas ka."  We have big hugs when we see each other. The last time I saw her, mahigpit ang yakap, last na pala. Thank you very much for being a part of my life, Dean Aileen. I love you, rest na, you've worked so hard.

The passing of Dr. Baviera is "truly a great loss to us all. Let us all pray together for the eternal repose of her soul," wrote Dean Joefe Santarita. "She is dearly missed but her memories will be remembered forever....We will together mourn her passing....."

Remembering Dr. Baviera

Several media organizations—such as ABS-CBN, Rappler, GMA News, Sun Star Manila, The Philippine News Agency, the South China Morning Post, and Philippine Star, as well as a few Chinese media outlets, reported her death. Tributes and recollections from fellow China watchers have come in, including Teresita Ang See, Jaime FlorCruz, and Chito Sta Romana. Fellow academics, both in the Philippines and abroad, expressed their laments on social media, both Facebook and Twitter, as has the Philippine Navy and colleagues abroad.

In their tribute, Griffith Asia Institute in Australia collaborated with Dr. Baviera and the APPFI to produce a "joint policy brief on the bilateral relationship" between the Philippines and Australia. The Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) in Malaysia also shared the announcement of her passing on Facebook, calling her "a veteran in the foreign policy academic.....a good friend of ISIS Malaysia and a key part of the ASEAN-ISIS Network." Many in foreign policy and diplomatic circles–such as Hjayceelyn Quintana, Philippine Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates—recognized her legacy as well.

"In recent years," writes Dr. Aries Arugay, a Research Fellow at APPFI and Professor at the Department of Political Science, UP Diliman, "Professor Baviera focused on mentoring the next generation of strategic and area studies scholars as well as security practitioners by organizing research workshops and leadership programs. Her impeccable scholarship as well as her humble and gracious demeanor has inspired colleagues and policymakers. Her leadership in the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress is a centripetal one, as it has invited scholars from different institutions to engage in cutting edge strategic policy research and track-two diplomacy."

Doubling as mementos and emblematic of her views through the years, albeit in distilled form, many of Professor Baviera's interviews and lectures are excellent introductions to issues in Philippine diplomacy and international relations. These include her presentation at Yale University in May 2016, The Geopolitical Quandaries in South China Sea: Implications for the Philippines, China, and the U.S; a video podcast in October 2016 and her May 2017 presentation on ASEAN and the South China Sea after the arbtiration, both from Rappler; an interview with Manila Shimbun posted in July 2017; and a 2019 discussion for Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints's PostScript series, where she discussed her views on how [do] "regime type, nationalism, and culture affect the foreign policies of China and the Philippines" and the impact of the Hague ruling on Philippines-China relations. One of her more recent interviews is a podcast by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, which posted the video on 16 March 2020.

Aileen in Images

Professor Aileen S.P. Baviera completed her BS in Foreign Service (1979), MA in Asian Studies (1987), and PhD in Political Science (2003) at the University of the Philippines Diliman. A well-respected scholar in the Philippines and abroad, she also was editor of the journal, Asian Politics & Policy and received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the UP Alumni Association in June 2015.  For over twenty years, she taught courses on ASEAN, international relations, Chinese politics, and security studies at the UP Asian Center. A partial list of her publications can be viewed in her faculty profile, and in Google Scholar. An online Memorial Page set up by her family contains many charming anecdotes about her humor and her life outside an academic context.

The outpouring of tributes from different sectors—from academe and government to civil society in the Philippines and abroad—has been heartwarming. The extent of her network is staggering, and her stature in international academe no less so. Amidst our pain, they have been a joy to read. Her passing is an undeniably immeasurable loss for her family and for the scholarly community, both in and out of the Philippines. She leaves behind an intellectual legacy that scholars will continue grapple with, and one hopes, can continue to guide Philippine foreign policy in the 21st century.

"We have often heard it said, and rightly so," she wrote in her 2019 tribute to Ambassador Rodolfo Severino, "that good fences make good neighbors. But there is also no gainsaying the value of sincere dialogue and patient engagement in working out misunderstandings and sowing the seeds of trust. Where there is trust, it may even be possible to live without fences at all."

—Janus Isaac Nolasco
Managing Editor, Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia
Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman

This essay has been updated several times since it was published on 21 March 2020. Last updated 3 April 2020, 4:09 PM.

The Asian Center offers M.A. degrees in Asian Studies with four fields of specialization: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. The Center also has an M.A. program in Philippine Studies that allows students to major in Philippine society and culture, Philippine foreign relations, or Philippine development studies. The Center offers a Ph.D. program in Philippine Studies in conjunction with the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. For an overview of these graduate programs, click here. The Asian Center also publishes Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia, the latest issue of which can be downloaded at the journal's website.