ASEAN Summit: Leaders must take a stand against Philippines bloodshed

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday it is pointless to discuss China's island-building in the South China Sea and an worldwide tribunal's ruling striking down Beijing's claims to the waterway at this week's Asean summit, calling both a "non-issue".

Duterte's predecessor, President Benigno Aquino, petitioned the court in the Netherlands in 2013, and its arbitration tribunal ruled last July that China's claim to nearly the entire South China Sea has no legal or historical basis. The summits have spotlighted the escalating conflicts involving four ASEAN member states, Taiwan and China in recent years. "You must realize, so you will stop dreaming, we can not on our own enforce the arbitral judgment".

China has bowed to worldwide rules in the past, notably on fair trade and economic agreements, as it saw respect for the rules to be beneficial for its people.

During his election campaign, Duterte expressed a strong interest in building more amicable and cooperative relations with Beijing, which he has said he views as a crucial partner for economic development.

In a draft communique ahead of Friday's summit, leaders will shy away from criticizing China for its actions in the South China Sea, according to local media.

The summit is scheduled to focus discussions on measures to effectively deploy the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, master plans to implement the vision on the three pillars of politics-security, economy and socio-culture; the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025; and the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan III.

The Philippines Acting Foreign Minister says his country is keen to promote further investment with China, but cautioned that it could take some time to get large infrastructure projects already agreed up and running.

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The statement also said that the leaders reaffirm the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security, and freedom of navigation in and over-flight over the South China Sea.

Attorney Jude Sabio said in the 77-page complaint Duterte "repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously" committed crimes against humanity and that under him, killing drug suspects and other criminals had become "best practice".

ASEAN and China are also working on a "framework" agreement for a code of conduct on the South China Sea, with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei other claimants.

Mr Duterte, the firebrand former mayor of southern Davao City, has revived his country's economic and diplomatic ties with China and sought to recast relations with the U.S., its long-time ally, since taking office a year ago.

Ten months into Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte's tenure, his strategic honeymoon with China has devolved into rocky relations. Duterte, who has put the ruling on the back burner and said he will revisit it later in his term, said it was a waste of time for ASEAN to discuss that award now, and it was not relevant.

"As long as diplomatic momentum continues China will slow its militarisation and consolidation and control of its artificial islands", he said. Even before the Philippines sought worldwide arbitration on its maritime entitlements, Chinese officials had told me that they in fact felt they were being bullied by the Philippines, with Uncle Sam pulling the strings. No one could tell which principle he believed applied to the South China Sea dispute.

  • Sonia Alvarado