PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has called on member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to unite in keeping the region secure from terrorism and transnational crimes.
Speaking during Asean’s 50th anniversary rites in Manila on Tuesday, Duterte said members of the regional bloc must strengthen their alliance “to fully realize the dreams and aspirations for our peoples.”
“We want a region that is secure – where our peoples can live without fear from the lawless elements and the debilitating effects of corruption and transnational crimes,” Duterte said.
Addressing terrorism and violent extremism in the region was high on the agenda during the 50th Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in Manila over the weekened.
The President’s call for a secure region came as government troops continued to battle Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists in Marawi City in Mindanao.
Duterte, chairman of this year’s Asean meetings, also said there should be mutual respect and understanding as he emphasized that the rule of law must reign in the region despite differences.
“We want a region that is stable – where democratic institutions work, where nations regard each other with mutual respect and understanding, and where the rule of law reigns supreme in the relations between states,” Duterte said.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has opted to lessen dependence on the US, a treaty ally, partly fueled by Washington’s criticism of his controversial campaign against illegal drugs.
In loosening ties with Washington, Duterte has turned to China, which is embroiled in a maritime dispute with the Philippines and other Asean members over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
China’s land reclamation in the disputed waters has alarmed the region, as well as the US Australia and Japan. However, some countries dependent on Beijing’s aid and investments have been reluctant to push back.
Duterte paid tribute to the Asean founders, “whose patriotism went beyond borders, and whose idealism drew our nations and our peoples closer together.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the celebration of the 50th year of Asean was a clear proof that critics, who had claimed that the regional bloc was doomed from the start, were wrong.
“Five decades later we find ourselves living in peace, stability, prosperity, with Asean at the center of the evolving regional architecture,” Cayetano said during the same event.
No to protectionism
As the Asean marked its 50th year, the President emphasized that “prosperity should not be the right of just a chosen few.”
“It must be a blessing enjoyed by all,” the President said, as he stressed the importance of the Asean principles of non-interference and decision-making through consultation and consensus.
As he extolled regional integration, Duterte urged Asean to stand up against protectionism and pushed for the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (RCEP) trade pact.
The RCEP includes Asean, in addition to China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, countries with which the bloc already has free trade agreements.
“We must take a serious look at the economic integration. Asean has a bigger stake than any other part of the world in standing up against protectionism and securing the rules of the game in the international trade,” Duterte said.
“I was reminded that the Trans-Pacific, it was a dream that was no longer there,” he said, referring to Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade deal from which the United States, under President Donald Trump, has withdrawn.
Duterte called on the private sector to play a bigger role in spurring and sustaining growth as Asean nations “work to achieve the enabling environment for businesses to thrive.”
“Public-private partnership must be harnessed fully to lift our peoples from poverty,” the President said.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA