Duterteism highlighted as the Philippines chairs ASEAN in 2017

By Ge Hongliang Source:Globaltimes.cn Published: 2017/1/31 10:27:17

After a decade, the Philippines is going to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) again as President Rodrigo Duterte led the launch on January 15 in his hometown Davao City.

Back in September 2016, Duterte accepted the golden gavel, which symbolizes the handing over of ASEAN chairmanship, from his Laotian counterpart during his first appearance at the ASEAN summit as Philippine leader. The theme for ASEAN 2017, to be hosted by the Philippines, is “Partnering for change, engaging the world.” It is related to Duterte’s pragmatic diplomacy that he has opted for since taking office. With the chairmanship and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of ASEAN this year, Duterte is expected to improve ASEAN-China relations.

2017 marks the second anniversary of the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the most significant unit among ASEAN development targets. But ASEAN still has a long road ahead in realizing balanced development and integration. Therefore, ASEAN economic integration remains an important agenda under the chairmanship of the Philippines. Facilitating regional trade and investment will be on the top of the agenda. 

As the most important neighboring country to ASEAN, China has been supportive of the development of ASEAN economic integration. Beijing mapped out the development plan of the “Maritime Silk Road” in 2013 in hope of building a China-ASEAN community of common destiny in which countries in ASEAN are able to engage in extensive consultation, make joint contribution and share the benefits.

China-ASEAN economic and trade relations have continuously improved under the demand of the upgrade to their free trade zone. The bilateral relationship between China and ASEAN countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia has also steadily advanced. The remarkable changes in Philippines’ China policy under Duterte would serve as a significant development of China-ASEAN relations.

Six priorities highlighted under the theme of ASEAN 2017 include placing the people at the core, working for regional peace and stability, advancing inclusive and innovation-led growth, strengthening ASEAN resiliency and promoting ASEAN as a model of regionalism and as a global player. 

The ASEAN meetings this year will be tagged with pragmatism on the basis of cooperation and development, aiming at international integration while highlighting the ASEAN centrality. Duterte said in his speech that “we must strive for a region that promotes and maintains peace, security and stability.” He also emphasized that ASEAN has to adjust and keep up with the global trend but “ASEAN centrality is unshakable.”

After the rollercoaster ride of 2016, China and ASEAN have returned to practical dialogue over the South China Sea dispute. The formulation of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea will no doubt be the core content during the meeting. 

Duterte has pledged that Manila will set aside the arbitration ruling, which will not be on the agenda for the ASEAN summit in April. Manila’s move has shown its pragmatism and pursuit of the COC. 

Nowadays, with the calming of the South China Sea tensions, conducting talks and pragmatic cooperation is seen as the best option to maintain regional peace and stability. Enrique A. Manalo, undersecretary of Philippine’s department of foreign affairs, said in an interview that he hoped Manila could deliver a COC solution that is able to please all parties during the ASEAN chairmanship. The COC framework will be the primary target for China-ASEAN dialogue when it comes to the South China Sea issue.
The word “Duterteism,” featuring independence and pragmatism, has become a keyword in Southeast Asian affairs since the second half of 2016 and it will lead ASEAN to seek cooperation and engagement with the world as well as to maintain ASEAN’s “centrality.”

The author is a research fellow with the Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities. 


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