Trump, Duterte bond at summit; US says rights mentioned briefly
MANILA, Nov 13, (RTRS): A draft of the statement to be issued after a Southeast Asian summit makes no mention of the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a military crackdown that has been described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing. One paragraph of the communique, seen by Reuters on Monday, mentions the importance of humanitarian relief provided for victims of natural disasters in Vietnam and a recent urban battle with Islamist militants in the Philippines, as well as “affected communities” in northern Rakhine state.
The statement was drawn up by the Philippines, current chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — which includes Myanmar — whose leaders met for a plenary session in Manila on Monday. The draft did not give any details of the situation in northern Rakhine or use the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority, which Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has asked foreign leaders to avoid. The government in mostly-Buddhist Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and does not recognise the term.
Well over 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to find shelter in refugee camps after military clearance operations were launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts on Aug 25. The plight of the Rohingya has brought outrage from around the world and there have been calls for democracy champion Suu Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel peace prize she won in 1991 because she has not condemned the Myanmar military’s actions.
In September, UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres said the situation in Rakhine was best described as ethnic cleansing. Some members of ASEAN, particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced concern.
However, in keeping with ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another, the issue appears to have been put aside at the summit. In September, Malaysia disavowed a statement issued by the Philippines on behalf of ASEAN’s foreign ministers as misrepresenting “the reality” because it did not identify the Rohingya as an affected community in Rakhine state. Suu Kyi, who did not mention the crisis in a speech after arriving in Manila on Sunday, criticised ASEAN’s principle of non-interference herself in 1999 when she was fighting for democracy in a country then ruled by a military junta. “This policy of non-interference is just an excuse for not helping,” she wrote in an opinion column in the Thai daily the Nation at the time. “In this day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries.”
Meanwhile, Southeast Asian nations will not take a relative calm in the dispute over the South China Sea for granted, according to a draft of a statement to be issued during a summit meeting in Manila on Monday. The statement will be issued after a meeting between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Philippines capital, a diplomatic source said. “While the situation is calmer now, we cannot take the current progress for granted,” said the draft, a copy of which was seen by Reuters. “Important that we cooperate to maintain peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the SCS (South China Sea), in accordance with international law. It is in our collective interest to avoid miscalculations that could lead to escalation of tensions.”
Almost all of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, is claimed by China. Taiwan and four ASEAN nations — Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei — have competing claims. Leaders from China, the United States and seven other nations are joining ASEAN at its annual summit. US President Donald Trump said on Sunday he was prepared to mediate between claimants to the disputed South China Sea. Asked about his comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China upheld resolving the issue via talks with the countries directly involved and to uphold the peace and stability of the South China Sea.
The situation in the South China Sea was generally stable and heading in the right direction with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, he said. China has been angered in the past by freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea, and comments on the issue, by the United States which it sees as provocative.
On Sunday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suggested that, despite their differences, the leaders should not discuss the South China Sea. “We have to be friends. The other hotheads would like us to confront China and the rest of the world on so many issues,” Duterte said at a business conference. “The South China Sea is better left untouched. Nobody can afford to go to war. It can ill-afford a violent confrontation.”
China’s Premier Li Keqiang, speaking in Manila during a summit with ASEAN member nations, said Beijing was “committed to working with ASEAN to be good neighbours, good friends and good partners, and to always stand together rain or shine.” At the meeting’s formal opening on Monday, Duterte made no mention of the South China Sea and pointed to other triggers for a threat of violence in the region. “Terrorism and violent extremism endanger the peace, stability, and security of our region because these threats know no boundary,” he said. In another report, Trump said on Monday he had a “great relationship” with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, while a White House official said human rights got only a brief mention when the two met on the sidelines of an Asian summit. A spokesman for Duterte said there was no mention at all of human rights or extra-judicial killings during their conversation.
The meeting between the two presidents was one of the most anticipated at the summit of East and Southeast Asian leaders in Manila, with human rights groups pressing Trump to take a tough line on Duterte over his bloody war on drugs, in which thousands of people have been killed. “The conversation focused on ISIS (Islamic State), illegal drugs, and trade,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. “Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.” Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman, told a news conference that the Philippine president had explained his anti-drugs policy at length to Trump, who “seemed to be appreciative of his efforts”. “There was no mention of human rights, no mention of extra-legal killings,” he said. More than 3,900 people have been killed in a war on drugs that Duterte declared when he took office last year. His government says the police act in self defence, but critics say executions are taking place with no accountability. “We are your ally. We are an important ally,” Duterte told Trump at the beginning of their talks, according to reporters allowed in to the meeting room. Trump replied: “We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful. And the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) conference has been handled beautifully by the president in the Philippines.” Duterte, who has been called the “Trump of the East” for his brash style and provocative language, said last week he would tell the US president to “lay off” if he were to raise accusations of rights violations.