Trump vows 'warm, working relationship' with Duterte in phone call

Cheryl Sanders
April 30, 2017

ASEAN member states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have claims that overlap those of China in the South China Sea through which much worldwide commerce passes, and where marine resources, and potentially oil and gas deposits, are abundant.

But in an oblique swipe at Western governments which have lashed out at his tough anticrime policy, Mr. Duterte asked them not to meddle in the affairs of countries in the region even as his speech was couched in a formal, diplomatic tone.

"It can´t be seen that Association of Southeast Asian Nations has totally given in to Chinese pressure", a Southeast Asian diplomat in Manila for the event told AFP.

"Expect ASEAN leaders to yet again throw the human rights of an Asian country under the bus by remaining silent about Duterte's abusive drug war by implicitly or explicitly invoking the organization's "non-interference" principle, '" Kine said.

Duterte said: "It would be good for America to just restrain a little bit, and if I were President Trump, I'll just back out, not really in surrender and retreat".

But some officials fear the CoC, when it is finally adopted, will be less "valuable" as China, which is also claiming the area, continues with its development plans.

In a war of words, Trump criticised North Korea for "disrespecting the wishes of China" after Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile, which was unsuccessful.

"We also took note of the improvement of bilateral relations between some ASEAN Member States and China", the chairman statement said.

Duterte, 72, will also be under the summit spotlight. "With political will and cooperation, it can be dismantled, it can be destroyed before it destroys our societies", he said.

China is not a member of the 10-member bloc and did not attend the summit but is extremely sensitive about the content of its statements.

ASEAN is an unwieldy collective that includes dictatorships and authoritarian states.

The U.S. has been a military ally of the Philippines since 1952, but when Duterte assumed the Philippine presidency a year ago he surprised his countrymen by announcing that he will begin to realign with China and Russian Federation. He also said he was not optimistic that negotiations, already two years past its original 2015 deadline, would be concluded this year.

However, other Asean members at the summit, unhappy with intense Chinese lobbying of the Philippines, sought to toughen up the chairman's statement and there were hot debates on the issue leading up to the summit yesterday.

"In diplomatic terms it can also refer to the tribunal ruling", another diplomat said.

"The actions of [North Korea] have resulted in an escalation of tensions that can affect peace and stability in the entire region", the ASEAN statement said. Although seemingly a small detail, that change represented a victory by China to shield itself from calls to comply with the arbitration decision.

"It was a very friendly conversation, in which the two leaders discussed the concerns of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding regional security, including the threat posed by North Korea", the White House meanwhile, said in its own media release about the conversation. The latest missile launch was Saturday.

Following a recent spike in tensions in the Korean Peninsula, Indonesia has called for stability and peace in the region.

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