‘Philip­pines vi­tal for mil­i­tary rea­sons’

Sea code of con­duct talks ‘sta­biliser’ for re­gion: China

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA, Nov 14, (Agen­cies): Don­ald Trump said Tues­day strong US ties with the Philip­pines were vi­tal for mil­i­tary rea­sons, as he ended a trip to Manila in which he ig­nored al­le­ga­tions of mass mur­der un­der Ro­drigo Duterte.

The US pres­i­dent said he had re­paired re­la­tions with the Philip­pines, which soured last year when the ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama crit­i­cised Duterte’s drug war.

“The (Philip­pines’) re­la­tion­ship with the past ad­min­is­tra­tion was hor­ri­ble, to use a nice word. I would say hor­ri­ble is putting it mildly,” Trump told re­porters.

“And now we have a very, very strong re­la­tion­ship with the Philip­pines, which is re­ally im­por­tant: less so for trade, in this case, than for mil­i­tary pur­poses.”

Duterte vowed dur­ing last year’s elec­tion cam­paign that he would wage an un­prece­dented crack­down to erad­i­cate il­le­gal drugs in so­ci­ety, which he said would claim up to 100,000 lives.

Since Duterte took of­fice 16 months ago thou­sands of peo­ple have been killed, with rights groups ac­cus­ing po­lice and hired as­sas­sins of mass mur­der.

War

Then-pres­i­dent Obama urged Duterte to fol­low the rule of law in pros­e­cut­ing the drug war.

Duterte re­sponded by brand­ing Obama a “son of a whore” and us­ing the con­tro­versy as a rea­son for build­ing closer ties with China and Rus­sia.

The Philip­pines, a for­mer Amer­i­can colony, had been one the United States’ most im­por­tant al­lies in Asia, and the na­tions re­main bound by a mu­tual de­fence pact.

Rights groups had called on Trump to voice con­cerns about the drug war in Manila, which was the last stop on a 12-day Asian tour.

Trump in­stead ap­peared in a range of events on the side­lines of sum­mits in­volv­ing lead­ers from 19 na­tions in which he and Duterte clearly en­joyed each oth­ers’ com­pany.

“We’ve had a great re­la­tion­ship. This has been very suc­cess­ful,” Trump told Duterte in brief open­ing remarks at their of­fi­cial meet­ing on Mon­day. “I’ve re­ally en­joyed be­ing here.” Trump then laughed as Duterte called the for­eign and lo­cal me­dia in the room “spies”.

Duterte’s spokesman later said Trump did not bring up any hu­man rights con­cerns in the meet­ing, which lasted about 40 min­utes.

Trump spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said hu­man rights were raised, al­though “briefly”.

Ban­quet

Duterte and Trump also sat next to each other at a pre-sum­mit ban­quet on Sun­day, dur­ing which they smiled, chat­ted and clinked cham­pagne glasses.

Duterte sang a Filipino love song at the din­ner, say­ing light-heart­edly that he did so on the or­ders of the US pres­i­dent.

Mean­while, China’s agree­ment to be­gin dis­cus­sions with the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) on the fine print of a code of con­duct frame­work for the dis­puted South China Sea will be a “sta­biliser” for the re­gion, Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang said.

“China’s great­est hope is for peace and sta­bil­ity in the South China Sea,” Li told ASEAN lead­ers in Manila.

South­east Asia and China for­eign min­is­ters in Au­gust adopted a ne­go­ti­at­ing frame­work for a code of con­duct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by crit­ics as a tac­tic to buy China time to con­sol­i­date its mar­itime power.

Li, ad­dress­ing lead­ers of ASEAN group­ing dur­ing a sum­mit in the Philip­pines cap­i­tal Manila on Mon­day, said there was a con­sen­sus on mov­ing for­ward and to try to peace­fully re­solve the thorny is­sue.

Trust

“We hope the talks on the code of con­duct will bol­ster mu­tual un­der­stand­ing and trust. We will strive un­der the agree­ment, to reach a con­sen­sus on achiev­ing early im­ple­men­ta­tion of the code of con­duct,” Li said, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of his speech re­leased by China’s For­eign Min­istry on Tues­day.

Li didn’t give a time­frame, but said he hoped this move would be a “sta­biliser” for the re­gion.

Crit­ics say the agree­ment to talk on the de­tails of the code of con­duct is only an in­cre­men­tal move, with a fi­nal agree­ment not likely any­time soon. De­spite a pe­riod of rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity in the South China Sea, some coun­tries at the sum­mit said this shouldn’t be taken for granted.

The frame­work seeks to ad­vance a 2002 Dec­la­ra­tion of Con­duct (DOC) of Par­ties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ig­nored by claimant states, par­tic­u­larly China, which has built seven man­made is­lands in dis­puted waters, three of which are equipped with run­ways, sur­face-to-air mis­siles and radars.

All par­ties say the frame­work is only an out­line for how the code will be es­tab­lished but crit­ics say the fail­ure to out­line as an ini­tial ob­jec­tive the need to make the code legally bind­ing and en­force­able, or have a dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nism, raises doubts about how ef­fec­tive the pact will be.

Sign­ing China up to a legally bind­ing and en­force­able code for the strate­gic wa­ter­way has long been a goal for claimant mem­bers of ASEAN, some of which have sparred for years over what they see as China’s dis­re­gard for their sov­er­eign rights and its block­ing of fish­er­men and en­ergy ex­plo­ration ef­forts.

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