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Spotlight: Philippines to push for greater ASEAN unity, deeper integration at summit

Xinhua, April 25, 2017 Adjust font size:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will push for a greater Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) unity and deeper economic integration within ASEAN and other countries in the region when Southeast Asian leaders meet in Manila this week.

As the chair of the 10-member ASEAN, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Philippines hopes to set the tone for the next 50 years of ASEAN's future.

"Now, more than ever, it is important to realize that our destiny lies in ASEAN and (in the Asia) Pacific region. I put forward our initiatives and priorities for a stronger ASEAN," Duterte said recently.

In his speech in Davao City in January, Duterte stressed the need to maintain regional peace and stability, and called for renewed constructive engagement with ASEAN dialogue partners.


Duterte said that unity and cooperation, which have defined ASEAN over the last five decades, will be crucial to the bloc's collective success as a community. "We are committed to the building of a strong and resilient ASEAN community," he said.

"We must continue working on a bigger, more open and rules-based market for business and trade to thrive," he added. "We must forge on with increased people-to-people interaction through commerce, travel and education. We must strive for a region that promotes and maintains peace, security and stability."

This year, he said, the focus will be to work for regional peace and stability, pursue maritime security and cooperation, advance inclusive, innovation-led growth, strengthen ASEAN resiliency, and promote ASEAN as a model of regionalism and as a global player.

Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo stressed the need to have peace and stability to attain ASEAN's core goals of economic development and community-making.

"Our goal is to advance common interests, all aligned towards the realization of a truly rules-based, people-oriented, people-centered community," Manalo said.

The ASEAN leaders will discuss issues that would promote peace, security and stability in the ASEAN region," he said.

"We will reassert ASEAN centrality," Manalo said, adding that Duterte "will raise issues which would support or enhance greater ASEAN centrality and involvement in regional issues and promote ASEAN unity."

ASEAN needs to have regional centrality and solidarity to ensure the region's continued peace and prosperity. Although ASEAN has outlasted regional crises, analysts say tensions and challenges continue to test its solidarity and resolve.


Aside from community building, Manalo said the leaders are expected to talk about security issues besetting the region including the developments in the South China Sea, and how to address non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, transnational crimes and disaster response.

The issue of the South China Sea is linked directly to regional peace and stability. Efforts are underway to craft a framework for a code of conduct aimed at reducing tensions in the South China Sea.

"It's very promising and it gives us a lot of optimism that we're moving in the right direction," Manalo said.

Manalo has predicted that maybe by mid-year "we might have a framework of a code of conduct."

"At least, we have now a very clear basis to negotiate a code. Hopefully this will continue in the years ahead and translate into something very concrete," he said.

The top diplomat said there is a renewed trust between ASEAN and China thanks to the improving Sino-Philippines relations.

"I think what this really signifies is that we're now in a position to try and seriously have a code, a framework and in the process talk about this problem, how to manage these tensions. And I think there's been now a better element of trust and I think better political will," he said.


Another key issue on the agenda at the Manila summit is to cultivate extensive economic cooperation and intensive integration.

The Philippines has committed to fasttracking the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a giant freed trade pact backed by China that aims to tie together ASEAN's free trade agreements with trading partners of Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines will push for the "substantial conclusion" of RCEP that will expand the ASEAN market from 600 million people to 3.5 billion by the yearend.

RCEP negotiations were launched in November 2012 in Cambodia, and scheduled to conclude by the end of 2015. While this deadline has passed, negotiations are expected to intensify this year with experts predicting that an RCEP deal could occur this year.

Wilfrido Villacorta, former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Philippines to ASEAN, said the countries of ASEAN have always been very diverse.

Hundreds of languages are spoken in the region. In terms of population or area, some countries are large and some are small, some are rich and some are poor. But remember that their geographical proximity and the desire for mutual protection propelled the establishment of ASEAN in 1967.

Despite the rapid development and progressive integration achieved over the past few decades, ASEAN economies remain extremely diverge, marked by a low degree of convergence. But that is exactly what ASEAN is doing now, to further integrate their economies. ASEAN now is trying to shape a common strategy to promote development and stability in the region, Villacorta said

Richard Heydarian, the professor from De La Salle University, believed promoting the ASEAN economic integration is easier than political integration and social and cultural integration, saying some countries still haven't got a consensus on regional security issues.

A chairman's statement will be issued at the close of the summit. ASEAN leaders will meet again in November for another summit and the East Asian Summit that will be attended by leaders from ASEAN dialogue partners.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Endit