MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte formally opened the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits on Monday, November 13.
The opening ceremony, held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, formally begins rounds of talks among Southeast Asian leaders and leaders of the region's dialogue partners on a variety of pressing issues.
Duterte began his speech with mention of the Marawi siege, a 5-month long crisis that laid waste to an entire city and claimed hundreds of lives.
He apologized for beginning the day on such a somber note but said the Marawi conflict serves as a reminder to ASEAN and its partner countries.
"Your majesty, your excellencies, l apologize for setting the tone of my statement in such a manner but I only want to emphasize that our meetings in the next two days present an excellent opportunity for us to engage in meaningful discussions on matters of regional and international importance," said Duterte.
He identified terrorism and violent extremism as threats that "know no boundaries" and piracy and armed robbery in the region's seas as damaging to economic growth.
True to form, Duterte put the spotlight on ASEAN's illegal drug problem.
"The menace of illegal drugs trade continues to endanger the very fabric of our society," he said.
NoKor, sea row
Aside from these, Duterte said other regional security threats are expected to top the agenda of the Summits.
One priority topic is the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula, arising from North Korea's recent ballistic missile launches.
Aside from ASEAN leaders, key players in this issue are attending the various Summits, including United States President Donald Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Chinese Premiere Li Keqiang, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Concern over the South China Sea dispute will return as a major topic of the Summit, with ASEAN and China targeting the start of negotiations for a code of conduct in those waters.
In his last bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Duterte had relayed ASEAN's worry about Beijing's installation of military outposts in various parts of the disputed sea.
US President Trump offered to "mediate" in the sea row during his talks with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.
Observers are waiting to see if any country will raise the Rohingya crisis during closed door talks. Hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya Muslim minority are stranded in different parts of Southeast Asia after fleeing from supposedly state-backed persecution in Myanmar.
Another elephant in the room is the continuing military rule in Thailand and President Duterte's own controversial war on drugs which has claimed the lives of thousands. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.