Philippines begin ASEAN leadership

Philippines begin ASEAN leadership

On Sunday, the Philippines will assume the chair of ASEAN, marked by a launch ceremony in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown

ASEAN-Laos-Duterte-15

Photo: King Rodriguez/PPD

On Sunday, the Philippines will assume the chair of ASEAN, marked by a launch ceremony in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown of Davao City. The event caps off a busy week for the city of 1.5 million – Japanese PM Shinzo Abe was treated to a personal tour of the city and Duterte’s home on Friday.

While ASEAN celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017, its members are facing an array of challenges, most notably how to deal with an increasingly assertive China. Beijing’s claim to vast areas of the South China Sea is disputed by five out of ten ASEAN members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia; the forum is rightly seen by both the US and China as a critical player in the dispute.

Leadership of ASEAN – which promotes cooperation and economic integration in South East Asia – has been billed as “one of the most important diplomatic events” of Duterte’s presidency. The Philippine leader has earned a reputation as a populist strongman, pursuing a brutal war on drugs and making frequent inflammatory statements aimed at both domestic and foreign audiences. Most notably, Duterte has publicly rejected closer ties with Washington, called for US troops stationed in the country to leave and engaged in a Chinese charm offensive.

While it’s highly unlikely Mr Duterte will use leadership of the regional bloc to pursue radical policies in the region, the increased media attention will give him a truly global platform from which to espouse his proactive stances.