Duterte arrives in Singapore for ASEAN Summit

Pia Ranada
Southeast Asian leaders are expected to discuss the code of conduct for the South China Sea, a few weeks before Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping in Manila

DUTERTE AND ASEAN. President Rodrigo Duterte and other leaders of ASEAN member countries pose for a photo during the opening ceremony of the 32nd ASEAN Summit at the Shangri-la Hotel on April 28, 2018. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Singapore on Monday night, November 12, to attend the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits.

The 3-day gathering will include discussions on the proposed ASEAN-China code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea and will see Duterte meeting world leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States Vice President Michael Pence, who is attending in President Donald Trump’s place.

Duterte’s first summit-related event is the opening ceremony to be held on Tuesday night, November 13, at the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The proposed sea code of conduct between the ASEAN and China, among the most closely watched topics, will be discussed during the gathering, specifically at the ASEAN-China Summit on Wednesday, November 14.

Duterte is expected to play a crucial role here since the Philippines is currently the coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership.

Philippine Foreign Assistant Secretary Junever Mahilum West said the issue is on the agenda, but she “cannot say” what details will be taken up during talks on the South China Sea.

“We are quite sure that the South China Sea, as I’ve mentioned before, would be one of those regional developments that would be taken up in the summit…. For sure there’s going to be discussion on the South China Sea,” West said on November 9 during a Malacañang news briefing.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had earlier said Beijing hopes the consultations on the code of conduct will be concluded during the Philippines’ term as China-ASEAN dialogue coordinator, which ends in 2021.

Later this month, Duterte will host Chinese President Xi Jinping during his first visit to the Philippines under the Filipino firebrand’s presidency.

During this visit, Duterte and Xi may sign a framework agreement on joint development in the West Philippine Sea, expected to be a milestone in the steadily warming ties between the two countries.

But the deal, details of which have not yet been disclosed, could also shake up regional dynamics in the South China Sea, a large ocean with overlapping parts being claimed by 3 ASEAN countries and China. Critics, including Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, have pointed out that any resources obtained from joint ventures within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone must benefit solely Filipinos, based on the 1987 Constitution.

West said there are talks on 3 to 5 bilateral meetings between Duterte and another head of state or government while he is in Singapore. She declined to say which leaders are involved. 

Official delegation

Duterte brought along 8 Cabinet members to Singapore. His delegation also includes Philippine Permanent Representative to ASEAN Elizabeth Buensuceso and Philippine Ambassador to Singapore Joseph Del Mar Yap.

The Cabinet members in the delegation are:

  • Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr
  • Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III
  • Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana
  • Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez
  • Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista
  • National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr
  • Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo
  • Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar

Schedule of events

After the opening ceremony on Tuesday night, there will be a working dinner hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, currently ASEAN chairman. The leaders of the 10-member regional bloc will then hold a plenary.

The next day, Wednesday, will be a full day for Duterte and his Southeast Asian counterparts. On this day, all ASEAN leaders will hold separate summits with 5 of the regional association’s partner countries: Australia, China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan.

The last summit that day will be the 2nd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit where ASEAN leaders and leaders of partner countries will look into the progress of negotiations on the RCEP, which aims to create a free trade agreement among the 10 ASEAN member countries and 6 partner countries – Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

West said there were hopes that RCEP negotiations would be concluded by the time of the 33rd ASEAN Summit, but this is not likely. She expects ASEAN leaders to call for the early resolution of negotiations.

“During the summit, the leaders would express their commitment to conclude the negotiations because this is very important for the region especially in view of the rising trade developments, tensions in our unilateral actions,” she said.

Duterte will then join fellow leaders and their spouses in a cocktail reception that evening, to be followed by a gala dinner.

On Thursday, November 15, the last day of the gathering, ASEAN leaders will hold a summit with India, then the US. They will then hold the ASEAN Plus Three Summit. The ASEAN+3 is a grouping comprised of all 10 ASEAN countries, plus China, Japan, and South Korea. 

This will be followed by the 13th East Asia Summit Lunch Retreat and 13th East Asia Summit Plenary. The East Asia Summit refers to a grouping comprised of the 10 ASEAN countries plus India, China, Japan, US, New Zealand, Russia, and South Korea.

At around 4:30 pm, a closing ceremony will be held during which Singapore will formally turn over the ASEAN chairmanship to Thailand.

After this, Duterte will fly to Papua New Guinea to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.