ASEAN countries continue to court China

Rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula are high on the agenda of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual summit in Manila.

ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the Sea, but China insists it has sovereign rights over almost all of it.

A draft of the chairman statement before the start of pre-summit meetings on Wednesday also showed ASEAN leaders affirming the importance of "full respect to legal and diplomatic processes" in solving disputes in South China Sea.

"We shared the serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region", the draft statement read.

The notoriously blunt Duterte said the Southeast Asia region was extremely anxious about tensions between the United States and North Korea, and said one misstep would be a "catastrophe" and Asia would be the first victim of a nuclear war.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN.

"Very near, very unsafe", he said when asked if Asean leaders discussed the Korean peninsula situation at the summit.

"Yes, I said I agree, you can have a joint exercise here in Mindanao, maybe in the Sulu Sea", the President said after visiting the Chinese warships at Sasa Wharf in his hometown. The group wants Beijing to sign a framework agreement for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which would be a precursor to a long-delayed and supposedly legally binding pact governing behavior in the South China Sea to avoid conflict.

The South China Sea is a lucrative area as it contains ample oil, gas and fishery resources, while also facilitating some United States dollars $5 trillion worth of trade each year (hence being one of the world's key seaborne trade routes). There was also no reference to the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea, which rejected China's claims to sovereignty over most of the sea covered by a nine-dash line based on an old China map.

It was apparently dropped as China got more support over its military push into the disputed South China Sea after Duterte completely scaled down Philippines' opposition even over previous year s global tribunal award quashing Beijing's claims over the area. But the arbitral [ruling], it's only between China and the Philippines.

Sought for comment, Jay L. Batongbacal, director of University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the statement as "extremely disappointing and rather embarrassing".

The sources said the Chinese officials had lobbied the Philippines to keep tacit references to Beijing's island-building and arming of artificial islands out of the statement.

United States media had speculated that the Pentagon would carry out naval exercises in the South China Sea, but Japan has already said it would not take part in such a move.

"The illegal drug trade apparatus is massive".

Main points of 2017 Chairman's Statement on regional and worldwide issues.

The diplomats said four Asean member states had objected to it being omitted.

  • Leroy Wright