ASEAN sum­mit opens in Philip­pine cap­i­tal amid anti-U.S. protests

Tehran Times - - WORLD IN FOCUS -

Lead­ers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) are tak­ing part in a two-day sum­mit in the Philip­pine cap­i­tal, Manila, amid tight se­cu­rity and heavy po­lice pres­ence in the face of anti-United States protest ral­lies.

At the sum­mit, which opened Mon­day, the lead­ers from the 10 ASEAN mem­ber states will dis­cuss re­gional co­op­er­a­tion and de­vel­op­ments.

Also in Manila are lead­ers of ASEAN’s di­a­log part­ners, in­clud­ing the U.S., China, Ja­pan, South Korea, Rus­sia, Aus­tralia and In­dia.

The an­nual gath­er­ing opened amid fresh clashes be­tween Philip­pine se­cu­rity forces and the protesters an­gry at a visit by the U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to Manila.

Hun­dreds of protesters marched on the sum­mit’s venue near Manila Bay. The rally turned vi­o­lent when riot po­lice in­ter­vened, us­ing wa­ter can­nons and block­ing the de­mon­stra­tors.

Trump, who ar­rived in Manila on Sun­day on the last leg of his trip to Asia, an­gered peo­ple who fear he may want more mil­i­tary bases in the Philip­pines and drag their coun­try into a pos­si­ble con­flict with North Korea.

Dur­ing the sum­mit, a range of re­gional is­sues will be dis­cussed, in­clud­ing the Ro­hingya cri­sis in Myan­mar, the North Korean mil­i­tary pro­gram, the spread of ex­trem­ism in the re­gion, and the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute in South China Sea.

On the side­lines of the Mon­day event, the U.S. pres­i­dent sat down for talks with his Philip­pine coun­ter­part, Ro­drigo Duterte.

He also met with prime min­is­ters of Aus­tralia and Ja- pan, namely Mal­colm Turn­bull and Shinzo Abe, with their talks fo­cus­ing on North Korea’s mil­i­tary pro­gram as well as trade ties.

Trump said “a lot” of progress had been made in ne­go­ti­a­tions on trade with the two lead­ers.

In a brief­ing to me­dia, Turn­bull ac­cused North Korea of “reck­less­ness,” say­ing Py­ongyang needs to be stopped.

Abe also said that their most im­me­di­ate chal­lenge was to en­sure re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to a draft of a state­ment to be is­sued dur­ing a sum­mit meet­ing in Manila on Mon­day, South­east Asian coun­tries agree that the rel­a­tive calm in the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute over the South China Sea should not be taken for granted.

“While the sit­u­a­tion is calmer now, we can­not take the cur­rent progress for granted,” said the draft, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

“Im­por­tant that we co­op­er­ate to main­tain peace, sta­bil­ity, free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in and over-flight above the SCS (South China Sea), in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law,” it said.

The state­ment which will be is­sued af­ter a meet­ing be­tween China and the 10-mem­ber ASEAN bloc adds, “It is in our col­lec­tive in­ter­est to avoid mis­cal­cu­la­tions that could lead to es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions.”

The South China Sea has been the sub­ject of a ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute be­tween China and Viet­nam, Tai­wan, the Philip­pines, Malaysia, and Brunei. But those coun­tries seem to have been man­ag­ing their dis­putes with China smoothly.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, who met Duterte last week in Viet­nam, said his govern­ment guar­an­tees “safe pas­sage” for all coun­tries us­ing the South China Sea.

Trump also stepped in and of­fered to help set­tle the mar­itime dis­pute say­ing, “If I can help me­di­ate or ar­bi­trate, please let me know.”

China, how­ever, called for him to stay away from the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute, say­ing, “The South China Sea is­sue isn’t an is­sue be­tween China and the United.”

On Tues­day, ASEAN will have a 40th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tive sum­mit with the Euro­pean Union. It will be fol­lowed by the East Asia Sum­mit (EAS), which is com­posed of ASEAN mem­bers, Aus­tralia, China, In­dia, Ja­pan, New Zealand, Rus­sia, South Korea and the United States.

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