Philippines' Duterte Urges U.S. Restraint on North Korea

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders link arms during the opening ceremony of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned Southeast Asian leaders Saturday they were facing a "massive" illegal drug menace that could destroy their societies, as he called for a united response.

Maritime disputes between China on the one hand and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan on the other have caused tensions in the region and often led to a war of words between Beijing and Washington.

As expected, the statement, which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was supposed to read on Saturday as Asean chair, also ignored an global tribunal's ruling striking down Beijing's claims to almost all of the South China Sea.

Filipino diplomats said the phrase was important because "legal and diplomatic processes" encompassed the entire process of the filing of the case in the tribunal until its resolution.

But former Philippines military officer and opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano remarked that the statement had more to do with kowtowing to Beijing than establishing foreign policy, saying that China "won by convincing Duterte not to include any statement about the (international) ruling ..."

Patron's statement came after the official Asean chairman's message made no mention about the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision on the resource-rich South China Sea, and China's continuing reclamation and militarization activities in the disputed island.

Duterte disregarded the ruling himself, only stating that there are "concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments in the area".

Duterte, elected a year ago, has changed foreign policy by playing down his country's territorial dispute with China over large parts of the South China Sea in favour of seeking greater economic aid and investment. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the issue with the press.

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte issued a Chairman's statement on Sunday, one day after the 30th ASEAN Summit closed.

Patron also disagreed with claims that the Philippines' hosting of ASEAN was a lost opportunity because of the exclusion of the arbitral ruling.

Unlike in the draft chairman's statement provided to the members of the media Saturday, the final statement omitted sentences referring to activities in the South China Sea that may cause tension among the claimants.

Analysts agreed the bland statement was a result of Chinese pressure.

Southeast Asian leaders wrapped up a summit on Saturday by taking a softer stance on the disputes in the South China Sea.

Ahead of the summit Duterte said the Philippines and other nations were helpless to stop Chinese artificial island building in areas they claimed, so there was no point discussing it at diplomatic events such as Saturday´s summit.

"We also share your country's concerns on the devastating effects of drugs upon society and I understand your personal resolve in combating it", Bolkiah said as Duterte hosted him at the presidential palace on Thursday.

  • Leroy Wright