Philippines' Duterte skips ASEAN meetings to take 'power naps'

Marsha Scott
November 16, 2018

"If I can I will, if I'm sick I won't", he told reporters after the summit here.

The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations was focusing on issues of security and trade at its summit, with managing conflict in the South China Sea a perennial issue.

"Substantial progress has been made this year to advance the RCEP negotiations", Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Wednesday evening, adding talks were now "at the final stage".

"There are no winners in a trade war", Li said before his meeting with the ASEAN leaders.

He blamed a "schedule crunch" after a particularly frenetic few weeks that included the midterm elections, attending the World War I armistice commemorations in France and preparing for the G20 in Argentina later this month.

Trump is not at the Singapore summit, nor will he attend a subsequent gathering of world leaders in Papua New Guinea at the end of the week, having sent Vice President Mike Pence instead.

That accolade goes to Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is 20 years older than Duterte and now the world's oldest leader.

"With the headwind of trade protectionism, free trade is facing some difficulties", Mr Li said.

The RCEP is made up of Asean and six key partners with which the bloc has existing free trade agreements - China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.

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"The existing free, open and rules-based multilateral system which has underpinned ASEAN's growth and stability has come under stress", he said, adding that it was unclear if the worldwide order would break up into rival blocs.

During the talks, however, China controversially proposed that Southeast Asian states must cease naval exercises and military cooperation with external powers, particularly the U.S. and Japan, in the South China Sea.

At the same time, trade ministers across Asia Pacific have sounded a largely positive tone this week, saying they expect the pact to be agreed sooner rather than later.

"We have every reason to believe that this visit will enormously boost China-Philippines relations in the new era, position our relations as a new model of worldwide relations and further contribute to the building of a community of shared future for mankind", he said in a statement.

China and its Southeast Asian neighbours have reiterated their commitment to work together to avoid confrontation and clashes in the disputed South China Sea, as Beijing also called for greater cooperation on trade.

That meeting will be closely watched for progress on resolving the standoff over technology policy that has led the US and China to impose billions of dollars of tariffs on each other's exports.

Negotiations on the COC are expected to face delays because of China's negotiating strategy, which is to "deal with less powerful countries on a one-on-one basis" rather than allow ASEAN nations the benefit of collective bargaining, reports ABC-CBN.

Back in 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping reassured former US President Barack Obama at the White House's Rose Garden that Beijing would not militarize its then newly-built artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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