Nuclear crisis, extremism top Asean Summit agenda

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Workers rush logo displays for 2017 Asean Summit. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Twenty-one world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, will be converging in Manila next week as the Philippines hosts the 31st summit and related meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) amid tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

President Rodrigo Duterte will preside over the Asean Summit with fellow leaders from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Asean leaders will also have meetings with the bloc’s dialogue partners Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Russia and the US.

A total of 21 heads of state as well as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres are expected to participate, said Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr. who is operations director of the Asean 2017 national organizing committee.

From Nov. 12 to 14, these world leaders will engage one another over political and security concerns, including pressing threats to regional peace and stability.

Nuclear crisis

Mr. Duterte will preside over the summit amid a worsening nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula, the evident foothold of violent extremism in the region, a genocide-like humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and the resulting refugee crisis in Bangladesh, as well as the simmering territorial conflict in the South China Sea.

The 10 Asean leaders will also continue discussions on the long-running quest to achieve regional integration, since the summit is considered the region’s highest policy-making body.

Asean leaders and China are expected as well to announce during the summit the formal start of negotiations on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has so far confirmed the attendance of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Premier Li Keqiang of China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and US President Trump, whom Mr. Duterte will face for the first time.

105.3-km road trip

Because of President Duterte’s directive not to disrupt operations at the country’s main hub, Ninoy Aquino International Airport, all the world leaders will arrive and depart through Clark International Airport in the former US air base in Pampanga. They will be brought to Manila on a 105.3-kilometer road trip passing through a especially designated Asean lane.

According to the DFA, the 31st Asean Summit, Asean Plus One (or the Asean leaders’ meeting with each of the group’s 10 dialogue partners), the 20th Asean Plus Three Summit and the 12th East Asia Summit (EAS) will be held from Nov. 13 to 14.

Special gala celebration

Hosting the 31st Asean Summit and the Asean-led 12th EAS will conclude the Philippines’ yearlong chairmanship of the regional bloc.

The meetings will be held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

On Nov. 12, President Duterte will host a special gala celebration of Asean’s 50th anniversary.

The opening ceremonies and the plenary for the 31st Asean Summit will be held the next day, on Nov. 13.

On Nov. 13 and 14, Asean leaders will dialogue with leaders of their Asean partners Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Russia and the United States.

Also on Nov. 14, Mr. Duterte will preside over the 20th Asean Plus Three Summit—the meeting between the 10 Asean leaders and China, Japan and South Korea.

Closing ceremonies

The President will again preside over the 12th East Asia Summit which gathers leaders from the 10 Asean members as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US.

The closing ceremonies and the formal handover of the Asean chairmanship to Singapore will cap the Nov. 14 schedule. The Philippines, as this year’s Asean chair, earlier hosted the 30th Asean Summit from April 26 to 29.

In the sidelines of the three-day summit, Duterte will hold several bilateral and informal meetings with his counterparts. His bilateral meeting with Trump is expected to take place on Nov. 13.

“In general terms, Asean and its dialogue partners will discuss efforts toward further strengthening the Asean community, including connectivity, trade, health and people-to-people contacts,” DFA spokesperson Rob Bolivar said.

He said the Asean Plus summits “will be an opportunity to enhance Asean’s cooperation with the dialogue partners on key political, economic and sociocultural issues.”

Added Bolivar: “The East Asia Summit, being a leaders-led, strategic forum, will be an excellent avenue for the leaders to discuss the urgent political-security issues of the day.”

Arguably the top issue for the leaders would be the escalating word war between Trump and Pyongyang officials over North Korea’s defiant display of its nuclear and missile capabilities.

“Somebody has got to talk to” and reassure North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that no one wants to destroy him or his country, President Duterte said recently, a turnaround from his remarks in August when he described Kim as a “fool” playing with “dangerous toys.”

‘Ethnic cleansing’

The leaders will also confront the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. The UN has condemned as “ethnic cleansing” the government crackdown since August on Rohingya Muslims in its northern state of Rakhine, which has forced at least 600,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

On behalf of Asean, Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano last September extended “deepest condolences” to the victims of the crisis, while appeasing the Myanmar government by condemning the attacks against its security forces by Rohingya militants.

Under the Duterte administration, the Philippines has eased its challenge to China’s reclamation of several reefs in disputed waters, with Mr. Duterte saying he was counting on China’s “promise” to stop its occupation of new areas.

The Philippines and another South China Sea claimant, Brunei, recently joined China and other Asean members Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos for the largest-ever joint maritime rescue exercise held on Oct. 31 off south China’s Guangdong province.

The other South China Sea claimants from Asean, Vietnam and Malaysia, did not join the exercise. Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, is another claimant.

Mr. Duterte will face European Council President Donald Tusk for the first time since he ordered his officials to reject all grants from the European Union which he had accused of interfering with his policies, including his deadly war on drugs.

President Duterte will meet Guterres for the first time as well. He had previously slammed UN human rights officials who have decried the extrajudicial killings and other abuses unleashed by his antidrugs campaign.

The President has faced international criticism over the high death toll of his war on drugs as well as the massive destruction of Marawi City after a five-month battle against pro-Islamic State terrorists.

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