‘Philippines vital for military reasons’
Sea code of conduct talks ‘stabiliser’ for region: China
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.
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”.
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.
“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.