DAVAO CITY, Philippines – As the Philippines hands over its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to Singapore, its leader hopes that member-states of the regional economic bloc could aim for a “cohesive partnership.”
“If the European Union can do it, why can’t we?” said President Rodrigo Duterte in press conference shortly after his arrival from an official visit in Tokyo, Japan late Tuesday, October 31.
The Philippines is currently the chair of the 10-state bloc that aims to establish an intergovernmental cooperation as well as facilitating smooth movements of goods and services across the region.
Its chairmanship was at one point subject to criticism as in April, President Duterte weakened his resistance to Chinese expansionism in the contested South China Sea at the 30th ASEAN Summit.
During the summit, it was noted that Duterte’s chairman’s statement evaded island building activities and the Philippines’ legal victory against Beijing in an international tribunal ruling.
The statement was supposed to have represented the views of all ASEAN leaders.
Indonesia President Joko Widodo earlier emphasized that ASEAN leaders can stand up against China if it took a “common stand” on the dispute in the South China Sea.
But for Duterte, the country’s softened stance against China should not be an issue as “I cannot imagine mysel getting involved in a violent and almost a suicidal action.”
“You can read all the legal treaties there claiming this and claiming that. But the problem is, I said, is I do not want to criticize the big powers now because it was really of their own making,” he said.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in September has said that Singapore's ASEAN chairmanship in 2018 will prioritize improving ties with China and ASEAN’s need for “rationality and restraint” issues including the South China Sea dispute.
For the current chair, Duterte said addressing this issue will gear the economic bloc to become “more relevant to the times.”
“Maybe this time, or in the succeeding years, in the fullness of God’s time, since the world is now veering to the Easternization of the world – it’s coming, it’s just around the corner,” he said. – Rappler.com