July 18, 2018, 11:56 pm
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Duterte endorses Asean econ integration

PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday endorsed the proposed 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is expected to promote and strengthen the markets in the region.

The RCEP is a proposed free-trade pact among the 10-member countries of Asean, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam; and major trading partners China, South Korea, Australia, India, Japan and New Zealand.

The President, in addressing the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) grand celebration held at the PICC, said the RCEP should be concluded swiftly, especially now that the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is no longer available.

American President Donald Trump, after assuming office, said he is not inclined to continue the TPP. The Philippines had been exerting efforts to be invited to join the TPP under the previous administration but Duterte had said joining the economic bloc would be disadvantageous to especially in providing some affordable products like generic medicines.

“We must take a serious look at the economic integration. Asean has a bigger stake than any other part of the world in standing up against protectionism and securing the rules of the game in the international trade. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP will provide further impetus to our efforts. Negotiations should conclude swiftly as decided by RCEP leaders in 2016. I was reminded that the Trans-Pacific, it was a dream that was no longer there,” Duterte said.

RCEP aims to strengthen the regional markets and cover trade-in goods and services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property rights, competition policy, and dispute settlement, among others.

The President, during the Asean anniversary, called for greater participation from the private sector in promoting economic growth not just in each country but in the whole region.

Duterte said each Asean government is committed to providing an environment that is conducive to doing businesses and for investments to thrive.

“I call on our private sector to play a bigger role in spurring and sustaining growth. Public Private Partnership must be harnessed fully to lift our peoples from poverty,” he said as he acknowledged the role of the Asean Business Advisory Council and how its “Alliance for Prosperity for All” program is helping the micro, small and medium enterprises, and people from the grassroots to grow.

The President, during the event, also called on Asean leaders to unite against lawless elements, corruption and transnational crimes.

“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,” he said.

Duterte also said there should be mutual respect and the rule of law must reign supreme in relations between Asean-member states.

Following the event, the President also received the foreign ministers from Asean and non-Asean countries in separate courtesy meetings at the PICC. The courtesy call of Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kano followed.

VOICE OF STABILITY

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the Philippines will have a “loud but calming voice” in international affairs as part of the country’s independent foreign policy.

Cayetano said it was the marching order of President Duterte when he announced early on in his presidency that the country would play a stabilizing voice in the international community.

He added this was also the reason he accepted the post as foreign affairs chief.

“When President Duterte announced to the Philippines that we will now be standing on our feet, that we will now be implementing an independent foreign policy, that the country will have a loud but calming, firm but stabilizing voice in the international community, I could not say no,” Cayetano said in his speech at the Asean anniversary.

It will be recalled that the release of the joint communiqué was delayed Saturday due the South China Sea issue. 

Cayetano admitted yesterday that he almost lost hope that a consensus could be found considering the national interests of the member-countries at play but that in the end, he and his counterparts were able to agree to disagree.

Eventually, the communiqué overcame the impasse and called for militarization to be avoided in the South China Sea.

It also expressed concern about reclamation in the disputed waters and emphasized the importance of self-restraint to ease tension in the area.

Cayetano also said Asean wanted to play a constructive role in easing tension in the Korean peninsula but stressed the regional bloc will support United Nations Security Council resolutions against Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

In a press briefing Tuesday night, Cayetano said he told the North Korean delegation headed by Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho that Asean wants the problem to be solved peacefully but Pyongyang must reciprocate.

“We have to get them to denuclearize peacefully but what if they don’t, that is the big question and we have to be very careful. Some states spoke out that they are supportive of UN Security Council resolutions but that there should not be use of force because it might spiral into a large conflict,” he said.

“The ball is in the hands of North Korea to give some kind of opening and the other ball is to the rest of the world. So it’s a sort of a paradox to get them out of the nuclear weapons program. It’s a very dangerous deadlock right now,” he added.

Cayetano said any military action against North Korea will result in a larger conflict that might engulf not only the Korean peninsula but other parts of the region considering the military capabilities of the parties.

He said this is the reason Asean wants to play the peacemaker to resolve the problem, especially since several members of the bloc maintained a relationship with Pyongyang.

He said Asean through its joint communiqué against the North’s nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile tests has already drawn the line. 

He said Ri told him that Pyongyang is friendly with Asean and the problem in the Korean peninsula was brought by the United States, making the security situation much more complex. 

Cayetano said Pyongyang will not be expelled from the Asean Regional Forum, the lone security summit where the isolated country sends its top envoy to engage in dialogue with other foreign ministers, since there is no mechanism to remove someone from the dialogue.

CANCELED TALKS

A scheduled meeting between the foreign ministers of China and Vietnam was cancelled on the sidelines of a regional gathering, Chinese embassy officials said, amid growing tension between the two countries over the South China Sea.

Vietnam has emerged the most vocal opponent of China’s claims in the waterway, where more than $3 trillion in cargo pass every year.

The Chinese embassy officials gave no reason for the cancellation of the meeting scheduled for Monday in Manila between China’s Wang Yi and Vietnam’s Pham Binh Minh.

A Chinese foreign ministry official said they had “already met”. Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

After the Asean meeting, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi had called out “some countries” who voiced concern over island reclamation.

Wang said China had not carried out reclamation for two years. 

Satellite images have shown that Vietnam has carried out reclamation work in two sites in the disputed seas in recent years.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said traffic was heavy yesterday on Roxas Boulevard in Manila and Pasay City.  – With Evan Orias and Reuters
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