PRESIDENT Duterte’s participation at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bangkok showed the strong ability of the President in handling important diplomatic roles, especially that which is assigned to the Philippines, such as this year’s chairmanship of the regional grouping.
The Filipino leader, though representing a medium-size developing nation, was able to hold his own before the likes of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Duterte made his presence felt in Bangkok, especially at the Asean-India Summit, when he discussed with Prime Minister Modi the issues that delay India’s full-fledged participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the free trade organization envisioned to be composed of 16 countries — Asean and its trading partners.
For seven years now, the Philippines has been one with RCEP countries in finding solutions to the hurdles that delay the final accord that would unite the trade and economies of half the world’s population and around 40 percent of its commerce.
Most likely, Modi explained to Duterte his country’s fears of opening up key industries such as textiles, metals, dairy and pharmaceuticals to cheaper Chinese imports. India is so huge an economy and so important a nation not to join the regional umbrella group, Duterte could have explained to Modi, even as he cited the participation of Asean, Japan, China, New Zealand and Australia.
Premier Li’s presence at the Summit should erase doubts about China’s reported shady intention of trade dominance in Asia, something that India and the United States find to be a source of serious concern.
Duterte also acknowledged that RCEP is now seen as a counterpoint to the growing protectionism of the United States, a trade pact that jives particularly with his announced independent foreign policy for the Philippines which in real terms is actually a pivot to China.
The President’s talk with Modi also affirmed that both the Philippines and India are seriously trying to reduce mass poverty and fight inequality. The two countries are also committed to pursue the growth of the blue economy, i.e., the economic activities related to marine resources. India and the Philippines have vowed to exchange skills and cooperation in science and technology, innovation, education and vocational training.
If only for these gains, President Duterte’s trip to the Asean Summit in Bangkok is worth the time and the expenses. Concrete returns for the Philippine economy in the future would be a bonus.