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Push for South China Sea code stirs Asean suspicions about Beijing's endgame

Push for South China Sea code stirs Asean suspicions about Beijing's endgame”

Asked by reporters if enforcement of an global arbitration ruling previous year would be brought up with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this weekend, Duterte scoffed: "Who will dare pressure?"

The 30th ASEAN Summit will take place in Manila, the Philippines, on April 28 and 29, with the attendance of leaders from 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

That the Philippines is chairing the ASEAN Summit against this horrifying backdrop is a scandal, and should prompt the government to make independent and effective investigations into unlawful killings an immediate priority.

Duterte hogged the headlines at another ASEAN leaders' summit in Laos previous year when he called then U.S. president Barack Obama, who was also attending, a "son of a whore" for criticising the drug war.

Villacorta noted that with the USA putting itself first, China "has the wherewithal to help us the most". The draft does not mention the court ruling, though it stresses the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region.

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During his election campaign, Duterte expressed a strong interest in building more amicable and cooperative relations with Beijing, which he has said he views as a crucial partner for economic development. "What is at issue is the conduct of the parties in the use of South China Sea", he said.

Only time will tell if the President is taking the right approach on the dispute in the South China Sea.

"As long as diplomatic momentum continues China will slow its militarisation and consolidation and control of its artificial islands", he said.

Mr Duterte, the firebrand former mayor of southern Davao City, has revived his country's economic and diplomatic ties with China and sought to recast relations with the USA, its long-time ally, since taking office previous year.

"Increasingly, the smaller Asean nations such as Cambodia and Laos are moving into China's orbit, as well as Malaysia and the Philippines to some extent", said David Skilling, founding director of Landfall Strategy Group, a Singapore-based advisory company.

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Analysts noted that the Philippines might be hesitant to provoke China given warmer ties between the two countries.

That indicates a change in the sentiment on display in February a year ago when Obama became the first president to host the Asean leaders in the U.S. The supposedly China-friendly Duterte has thus ironically taken a tougher position on the ground, committing resources and deploying defense officials to strengthen the Philippines' position.

"The president will see whether the commitments made have been implemented and realized in the field", Jose said.

"Some of us in ASEAN believe this is just another ploy by China to buy time", said one senior diplomat familiar with the talks.

These challenges, which include a demand to flight passengers to identify themselves, is one way China asserts its claim in the disputed sea. "The only question at arbitral was entitlement, not jurisdiction, not even territory", he said.

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