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Duterte to skip ASEAN-Australia summit for PMA graduation

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Duterte to skip ASEAN-Australia summit for PMA graduation

President Rodrigo Duterte shares a light moment with US President Donald Trump and Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the sidelines of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and Related Summits at the Cultural Center of the Philippines opening ceremony in Pasay City on November 13, 2017. Presidential Photo/King Rodriguez

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte will not be able to attend the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit this month due to developments in the country, Malacañang said Monday.

The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, scheduled on March 17 to 18, will coincide with the commencement exercises of the Philippine Military Alab Tala Class on March 18.

"He considers this graduation as an opportunity to dialogue with younger military officers particularly on the manner by which the Philippine government and military will deal with the problem of modern day terrorism," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Monday.

Despite skipping the first summit that Australia will host with Southeast Asian leaders, Duterte considers the summit very important, according to Roque.

The president has designated Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to be his representative during the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

"The special designation will help ensure that the Philippines continues to be engaged with ASEAN and Australia in advancing shared interest in the region and moving forward common agenda for greater security stability and inclusive and sustainable development in the region," Roque said.

During their meeting in Manila last November, Duterte assured Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the Philippines is concerned over China's militarization in the South China Sea Sea.

Australia, an ally of the United States, has been increasing its presence in the South China Sea despite not joining the US Navy's freedom of navigation operations in the region.

Turnbull earlier described Beijing's military deployments on the South China Sea as "counterproductive." There have been reports that China has been implementing a "diplomatic freeze" on Australia following Turnbull's new foreign interference laws and naval challenges to Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.

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