President Duterte shares a light moment with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha following their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 34th Asean Summit at The Athenee Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand on June 23.
Duterte urges Asean: Be voice of reason, moderation
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte returned Sunday night from the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Thailand, where he called on the regional bloc to act as the “voice of reason and moderation” at a time of “profound geopolitical shifts.”

The trade war between the United States and China and the South China Sea row loomed large during the summit, which was held from June 22 to 23 and attended by leaders of the 10-member bloc.

“Amid profound geopolitical shifts, the President called on ASEAN to be the voice of reason and moderation in the region, protecting time-honored principles of international law,” a Malacañang statement issued Sunday said.

Duterte expressed concern on the effects of the US-China trade war on global economic growth and integration as he called on the two countries to resolve their differences.

He cited the need for ASEAN to strengthen its commitment to a rules-based multilateral trading system. US and China have slapped higher tariffs on each other’s imports, worrying other world governments and free trade advocates who warned that the dispute could threaten economic growth, dampen global trade and raise financial risks.

“To this end, the President reiterated the Philippines’ commitment to work constructively with all parties to conclude negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this year, adding that trade should ultimately benefit the underprivileged segments of ASEAN countries,” the Malacañang statement also said.

Duterte claimed that the “brewing competition among the big powers” is generating greater instability and fueling already critical flash points in various parts of the world, including the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific.

As country coordinator of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, Duterte also expressed “grave concern” over “activities in the South China Sea that erode trust and confidence and undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”

He said delays in the negotiations for a substantive and effective code of conduct for claimants in the South China Sea dispute is “detrimental” to the region.

In 2002, ASEAN and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea as part of their effort to address maritime disputes peacefully. More than 16 years have since passed but a binding code of conduct has yet to be crafted.

Duterte, accused by his critics of being too soft on China, urged the ASEAN and Beijing to “act quickly,” saying the faster they finish the process, the more credible they would be as “partners for security and stability.”

He also called for the effective implementation of international instruments like the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to create a conducive environment for negotiations and to maintain regional peace and stability.

Duterte also thanked the captain and crew of the Vietnamese fishing vessel for saving 22 Filipino fishermen whose boat was rammed by a Chinese ship near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea last June 9.?He said representatives from the Philippines, China and a neutral country should probe the incident, which he had described as a little “maritime accident.”

The President stressed the need for ASEAN to intensify cooperation to address non-traditional security threats, such as terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crimes, including the trafficking of drugs, and climate change.

He reiterated that countries most responsible for climate change should be held to account and pushed for enhanced regional efforts to combat marine debris and to prevent the export of garbage to ASEAN countries.

ASEAN leaders also adopted four key documents: the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement on Partnership for Sustainability, the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the ASEAN Cultural Year 2019 and the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN Region.

Duterte also met with fellow ASEAN leaders Brunei Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesia President Joko Widodo and Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during the 13th Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area Summit.

“The leaders agreed to promote greater connectivity to facilitate cross-border trade and narrow the development gap in the sub-region. They likewise agreed to enhance military and police cooperation to effectively address terrorism and piracy in the high seas,” the Malacañang statement said.

The Philippine leader also held bilateral meetings with Widodo and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to discuss ways to boost Manila’s ties with Jakarta and Bangkok.

He also met with about 20 Thai business leaders and urged them to invest in new industrial centers outside Metro Manila like Clark, Cebu, Bohol and Davao. – With Christina Mendez

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