DESPITE recent challenges confronting the region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will prevail, President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday.
Duterte said the 10-nation bloc, which celebrated its 50th founding anniversary on Aug. 8, proved that their diversity “is strength rather than a weakness.”
“We proved that regionalism developed at our own pace and under our own terms and with our values can work. We are stronger, more vibrant and more robust as the Asean Community. Today, 50 years hence—we remain firmly convinced that we will prevail against the new and emerging challenges we now face as an Asean Community,” he told diplomats at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.
Duterte urged member-states to remember their responsibilities and “fully realize the dreams and aspirations” of their 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. We want a region that is stable, where democratic institution work, where nations regard each other with mutual respect and understanding where rule of law reigns supreme in the relations between states,” the President said.
With a combined current gross domestic product of about $2.6 trillion, Asean, founded on Aug. 8, 1967, is the world’s sixth largest economy and Asia’s third largest.
“The Philippines will continue to work closely with all stakeholders in the Asean to achieve what we set out: An Asean that is proactive, relevant and transformative,” he said.
“Today marks a genuine milestone [for] our region and our peoples: 50 years of Asean gives us reason to celebrate. Fifty years of Asean shows us there is a bright future to look forward to and to work for,” he added.
Also on Tuesday, a Landmark Lighting ceremony was held simultaneously with Asean member states participating in the occasion, along with 74 local government units across the Philippines.
In his speech, Duterte also took a swipe at the Trump administration’s retreat from a major free trade deal, joining Asian nations at a forum this week in criticizing rising protectionism.
Until recently China and the United States were both pushing sweeping free trade deals that excluded each other.
But shortly after taking office in January, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which he described as a “job killer.”
The move delivered a hammer blow to the 11 other nations who spent seven years negotiating what was billed as the world’s largest trade deal.
During a speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Asean in Manila, Duterte gave his backing to a planned trade pact backed by China known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
“Asean has a bigger stake than any part of the world in standing up against protectionism and securing the rules of the game in the international trade,” he told delegates.
RCEP, he said, “will provide further impetus to our efforts,” adding he hoped negotiations on the Beijing-led deal “should conclude swiftly”.
He then added a jab over TPP’s collapse.
“[I’m] reminded that the Transpacific, it was a dream, is no longer there,” he said.
Before Trump’s withdrawal, TPP would have covered 40 percent of the global economy.
It went further than most existing free trade pacts, with labor laws, environmental protections and intellectual property rights touted by backers as a new gold standard for global trade.
The deal, which excluded China, was also seen as a way to counter Beijing’s regional economic dominance.
In response to TPP, Beijing has been pushing RCEP, a more modest deal that prescribes lower and more limited regulatory standards.
The pact would group China with the 10 Asean members plus India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Throughout the security forum of regional foreign ministers that ended on Tuesday, multiple countries voiced specific concerns about rising protectionism, including Japan, South Korea, China and the 10-member Asean bloc.
“Anti-globalization sentiments and protectionist threats, to just name a few, are gaining force in many parts of the world, fuelling global economic and political uncertainty,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha said during a meeting with her Japanese and Chinese counterparts on Sunday.
At the PICC, Duterte exchanged pleasantries with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.
Ri congratulated the Asean on its 50th anniversary.
“We would be a good dialogue partner,” Duterte said, days after calling North Korean Kim Jun Un a jerk and crazy for threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano said the President’s gesture toward Ri was made in the hopes that North Korea would listen to calls by the 10-nation bloc to demilitarize. With AFP