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Coast Guard securing Manila Bay for ASEAN Summit

Coast Guard securing Manila Bay for ASEAN Summit

President Rodrigo Duterte attends the final briefing on the 30th ASEAN Summit in Malacañang.

An aerial view of Southwest Cay, also known as Pugad Island, controlled by Vietnam and part of the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea, April 21, 2017. Eduardo Ano flew to the island of Pag-asa in the South China Sea on Friday, drawing a protest from China, which also claims the remote territory.

"I think bigger than the so-called problem of the South China Sea is the North Korea threat-and also the threat of worldwide terrorism", he said.

Richard Heydarian, an expert on politics and global affairs at Manila's De La Salle University, said China's strategy was to project an image of being a responsible stakeholder rather than an aggressor, and avoid being bound to rules that could weaken its geopolitical position should the United States assert itself in the South China Sea.

Duterte, who is hosting the summit because of the Philippines' chairmanship of ASEAN this year, will make key decisions on the ASEAN chairman's statement and other outcome documents.

Nevertheless, Duterte has said he will not use ASEAN to pressure China.

He again stressed yesterday that nothing could stop China from its activities in contested waters, unless perhaps the world's lone superpower flexed its military muscle.

Asked about China's sincerity towards completing the code, Duterte said "tensions at sea were the fault of the United States". He has set aside the South China Sea ruling, handed down a year ago, as he seeks investments and loans from Beijing to help with his anti-crime drive and ambitious infrastructure spending programme.

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Duterte's unpredictable foreign policy is also expected to be in focus at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) event, with confusion surrounding his approach to Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

The Philippine President said he would rather keep discussions on the ruling between the Philippines and China.

With Asean restoring a sense of public unity, "that strengthens the future" for the bloc, according to former Philippine foreign secretary Delia D. Albert.

"We will skip, I will skip the arbitral ruling".

Chinese officials pledged US$15 billion in investment in the Philippines during Duterte's visit to China in October, according to the Philippine Department of Finance.

China is no doubt starting to realize that Duterte's government, which has taken a more pragmatic position on the territorial disputes, will not be an easy strategic pushover, even with Beijing's rich offers of economic assistance.

"The President made the commitment to prioritize a better life for all, to improve lives by reducing poverty by rebuilding trust in government and peace in our borders", Abella said.

Duterte said the Philippines will instead coax ASEAN and China to come up together with a legally binding code of conduct to handle the dispute, and to produce a framework for this over the next few months. The Asean Summit is a semi-annual meeting of the leaders of Asean's ten member states to discuss issues of mutual interest.

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