Mon | Oct 22, 2018

ASEAN summit opens, overshadowed by Duterte flap

Published:Wednesday | September 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Southeast Asian leaders link arms at the opening of the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits and other related summits in the National Convention Center yesterday in Vientiane, Laos. From left to right; Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar's Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang, Laos' President Bounnhang Vorachith, Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo.


A summit of Southeast Asian leaders to discuss issues ranging from terrorism to South China Sea tensions opened yesterday, overshadowed by the Philippine

president's intemperate comments in his debut appearance at the annual meeting. The insult was made more egregious because of who the target was - President Barack Obama.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte occupied centre stage on the eve of the summit Monday when he made comments about Obama that included a "son of a bitch" remark.

He was again in the spotlight yesterday when he trooped into a conference hall in the Laotian capital of Vientiane wearing a traditional Filipino shirt with sleeves rolled up, and hands in pant pockets. The other male Southeast Asian leaders were dressed in dark business suits. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi wore a mauve traditional dress.




"Multifaceted security challenges have occurred in many parts of the world, such as terrorism and extremism, natural disasters, climate change, migration crisis, trafficking in people, territorial disputes and armed conflicts," Laos President Bounnhang Vorachith said. "At the same time, although the global economy has gradually recovered, growth remains slow and fragile."

"There is a need for us to closely follow these developments and continue to enhance ASEAN cooperation and collaboration with the international community," he said.

The 10-nation ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The summit will be followed by a series of other meetings today and a summit tomorrow between leaders from ASEAN and other countries, including the United States, China, Russia, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Obama arrived in Vientiane on Monday night and will attend Thursday's summit. Duterte also arrived Monday night.

But hours before his arrival, Duterte dropped a diplomatic bombshell by saying he doesn't want Obama to ask him questions about extrajudicial killings that have occurred amid an ongoing crackdown on drug dealers in the Philippines. More than 2,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since he took office on June 30.

In his typical loose-tongued style, Duterte said: "I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. Putang ina, I will swear at you in that forum," he said, using the Tagalog phrase for 'son of a bitch'.




Obama later cancelled a bilateral meeting he was scheduled to have with Duterte in Vientiane. On Tuesday, Duterte expressed regret over the remarks, but the damage was already done.

Duterte is also planning to ask China's premier at the Vientiane meetings whether China is trying to develop a disputed reef, Scarborough Shoal, off the Philippines' northwestern coast, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

The shoal is part of the larger dispute in the South China Sea between China and some ASEAN countries. An international arbitration panel recently ruled that China's expansive claims in the sea are illegal. Beijing has rejected the ruling as a sham.

Although ASEAN has the power of the ruling behind it, its summit is unlikely to mention it in its final declaration, a reflection of Beijing's diplomatic clout.

But according to a draft of the final statement ASEAN is scheduled to release on Thursday, the region's leaders will express strong concern about Beijing's construction of man-made islands in the South China Sea, which Southeast Asian countries fear could destabilise the region.