(L-R) Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, đất nước xinh đẹp thái lan Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia President Joko Widodo & Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith join hands during a family photo before the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, the Philippines on November 13, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Aaron Favila)


The 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings were held in Manila from November 10-14. The summit was held under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World” – in relation to lớn Philippine government’s aspirations to lớn promote deeper integration amongst ASEAN member states và its partners worldwide.

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Philippines’ chairmanship of ASEAN coincided with the 50th anniversary of ASEAN.

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ASEAN 2017 thematic priorities.

Successes at the summit

Besides the lighter moments lượt thích US President Donald Trump’s confusion with the “ASEAN handshake” & Philippine President và current Chairman of ASEAN, Rodrigo Duterte serenading Trump with a love song, there were many issues which were discussed and tackled throughout the four days. The focus of this year was vast, including maritime disputes, matters of trade, cybercrime & terrorism, among others.

A key achievement in the summit this year was with regards lớn the South đài loan trung quốc Sea dispute. Duterte, in a press conference announced that đài loan trung quốc had agreed khổng lồ be bound lớn a code of conduct to lớn ensure peaceful resolution of the dispute. The discussions on a binding code of conduct will follow-up on a previous similar code, agreed upon in 2002 which was not legally binding.

His words were echoed by Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang who expressed his hope for peace & stability in the South china Sea to lớn leaders in Manila.

“We hope the talks on the code of conduct will bolster mutual understanding and trust,” Li said.

ASEAN leaders and trung quốc also agreed khổng lồ a 10-year pact for coastal và marine environmental protection from 2017 lớn 2027.

Besides that, the issue of terrorism also took centre stage – especially more since the Philippines is still recovering from the horrors of a five-month long battle with insurgents in Marawi, located on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. According lớn Duterte, the issue dominated high-level meetings during the summit và even in his bilateral exchanges with foreign heads. On Tuesday, the "Manila Declaration lớn Counter The Rise of Radicalization & Violent Extremism" was released which highlighted initiatives to effectively stem terrorism in the region.

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Marawi insurgency in the Philippines (Source: AFP)

Furthermore, ASEAN reaffirmed its commitment to không tính phí trade by inking a không tính tiền trade agreement & bilateral investment pact with Hong Kong. Amid Trump’s protectionist undertone at last week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, ASEAN seemed undeterred và looks to lớn push forward with a không tính tiền trade agenda.

The inaugural Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit was also held on Tuesday.

According to lớn Philippine Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo, “the màn chơi of engagement of the RCEP has been unprecedented.”

Another major achievement was the signing of the “ASEAN Consensus on the Protection và Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.” The consensus includes provisions for fair treatment of workers, visitation rights by family members & protection against sexual violence và harassment at the work place. The road to lớn the signing of this consensus took more than 10 years as states differed in opinion on whether the document should be legally-binding or not. It is now up lớn ASEAN member states to lớn formulate an kích hoạt plan khổng lồ implement the provisions of the consensus.

ASEAN’s deep scented wounds

Amid the brouhaha of ASEAN’s achievements at the summit, the elephant in the room needs lớn be addressed – the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

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Violence và allegations of arson, rape and murder committed by Myanmar’s military have been dominating headlines worldwide. Yet, the issue was barely addressed in Manila. Duterte’s chairman statement merely mentioned the crisis as a “a matter of disaster resiliency.”

So far, more than 600,000 ethnic Rakhine Muslims, also known as Rohingyas have fled Myanmar lớn nearby Bangladesh & their numbers continue to rise. Their plight is no better as they find themselves huddled in overcrowded refugee camps along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, lacking food, clean drinking water and proper sanitation.

Reflecting on this, Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the US based Council for Foreign Relations, expressed his disappointment in ASEAN’s inaction in addressing this still-unfolding humanitarian crisis.

“I understand ASEAN operates by consensus, & Suu Kyi was at the summit, và many other ASEAN leaders are autocrats who are uninterested in having anyone poke into their own internal situation regarding human rights. But to mostly ignore such a major humanitarian crisis makes one wonder what the point of ASEAN is,” he said in an e-mail interview with The ASEAN Post.

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Location of refugee camps in Bangladesh

Duterte himself has been facing criticism for his handling of the drug crisis in the Philippines. Extrajudicial killings have been part of Duterte’s tactic towards combatting the increase in drug related cases but since the killings of several teenagers in August and September, Duterte’s policy has been under severe scrutiny. The police are now denying that they ever executed individuals suspected of drug related offences although the evidence begs lớn differ.

When the issue was raised by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, Duterte responded that he was insulted – although he never mentioned Trudeau’s name specifically.

“I said I will not explain. It is a personal và official insult,” he said, adding that he wanted the media, especially the foreign truyền thông media to “lay off” the issue.

Trudeau’s actions were highly praised by some quarters after the issue of human rights violations was not brought up by Trump when he met with Duterte. Although the white house nhà trắng released a statement saying the matter was “briefly” tackled, Trump never addressed the issue out in the open lượt thích Trudeau did.

Moving forward: ASEAN’s future agenda

At the conclusion of the summit, Duterte passed the gavel khổng lồ Singaporean Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, signifying the transference of ASEAN’s chairmanship to lớn the island nation. Singapore’s chairmanship of ASEAN next year will place heavy emphasis on the digital economy and e-commerce, besides also ensuring ASEAN remains relevant in the international fora.

“We live in a rapidly changing world, to lớn keep ASEAN a central và dynamic driving force that can giảm giá with the challenges và opportunities, Singapore’s chairmanship focuses on the themes of resilience và innovation,” Lee said as the ASEAN Summit drew khổng lồ a close.

In his remarks, Lee also welcomed the incoming ASEAN Secretary General, Bruneian diplomat, Lim Jock Hoi.

ASEAN leaders are likely to lớn still be revelling in the “graduation goggles” of the recently concluded summit. But they have a lot on their plate to work on now. ASEAN isn’t perfect, & will continue lớn face harsh criticism for its actions or inaction. If the summit represents a commitment made together khổng lồ handle an issue, now is the time to lớn showcase the depth of such commitment by ensuring proper implementation.