Outgoing Duterte declines US-led ASEAN meeting set May 11-13

PCOO

PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has declined an invitation to attend a United States-backed conference for southeast Asian leaders to be held in Washington D.C. after the May 9 presidential election.  

Mr. Duterte told a taped Cabinet meeting aired Wednesday that it would not be too appropriate for him to attend the summit on May 11 to 13 because his successor would already be known by then and may not share his position on an “agreement” or “commitment” that will be discussed in the meeting.  

“I have an invitation in the US to join ASEAN countries to have a dialogue with President Joe Biden. The problem is the dates of the conference are May 11 to 13 and by that time, the elections are done and we would already know who the new president is,” he said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.  

“I might take a stand that would not be acceptable to the next administration.” 

The Philippines’ foreign affairs agency has not issued an official statement on who will attend the conference. Mr. Duterte, 77, has never visited the US during his six-year term.   

On May 9, Filipinos will choose his successor, who is likely to reassess the current administration’s policy of engagement with China.  

Political analysts have said that his policy on the country’s sea dispute with Beijing is a major election issue.  

Vietnam and Malaysia, which are ASEAN members, also claim parts of the South China Sea.   

The Philippines and the European Union (EU) agreed in a recent joint committee meeting to strengthen partnerships to maintain a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region and underscored the importance of enforcing a 1980s treaty on sea borders, which China does not recognize.   

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines and European bloc also recognized the importance of the 2016 United Nations-backed arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing’s claims to more than 80% of the South China Sea based on a 1940s map.  

“On maritime security, both the Philippines and the EU expressed concern over unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability and the international rules-based order,” it said.  

The DFA said the Philippines proposed the establishment of a sub-committee on maritime cooperation. 

Two ships hired by a local firm to do a seismic survey in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea were reportedly tailed and overshadowed by a Chinese Coast Guard ship earlier this month. 

International observers have said that the South China Sea, a key shipping route, is important for the regional ambitions of China, which has been in a trade war with the US involving tariffs and intellectual property rights, among other issues.   

The US last year reaffirmed its commitment to defend the Philippines against any armed attacks in the South China Sea and other areas in the Pacific. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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