By Genalyn Kabiling
NONTHABURI, Thailand – As the strategic rivalry between the United States and China threatens to disrupt global growth, President Duterte has urged Asia Pacific nations “not to be pawns in a geopolitical chessboard.”
Addressing the leaders attending the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS) last Monday here, the President urged instead countries to support an open and inclusive regional order as well as an open, fair, and rules-based international trading system.
“As the United States and China compete for supremacy in Asia Pacific, it has created intense rivalry and increased uncertainty in the region, President Duterte said,” a Palace press statement read.
“Despite these developments, ASEAN and the rest of the Asia Pacific region are not, and should not be, mere spectators, or worse, pawns in a geopolitical chessboard, he said, adding they should have a say in this unfolding drama,” it added.
On the part of the Philippines, Duterte said his government has chosen to expand “the horizons of our diplomacy” by strengthening cooperative ties with other countries. He noted the country was pursuing “cooperation not zero competition” with other nations.
“We are for an open and inclusive regional order where the rule of law reigns. And where ASEAN centrality is an essential component of the regional security architecture,” he said.
He said the Philippines will also work closely with its friends within and outside the region, including Japan, Korea, Russia, India to strengthen its regional mechanisms for peace and development.
Duterte, however, reminded EAS partners to respect the path each stakeholder will take.
“After all, the true measure of power is not coercion, but rather the ability to persuade on the strength of one’s ideals. Power is also the wisdom to exercise restraint even when outright domination is possible,” he said.
Also, the President pushed for an open, fair, and rules-based international trading system amid the trade tensions between the United States and China. He expressed concern that such trade conflict creates instability and the possible return of global protectionist policies.
“We are alarmed by this development. If left unchecked, this can undermine global growth, consigning millions of people in the developing world to a life of poverty,” he said.
Despite the trade skirmish between the two economic giants, the President was still all praises for the US and China for their “contributions to regional as well as global development.”
Duterte claimed that the US has “presided over the longest era of global peace and prosperity by building norms and institutions anchored on liberal principles and ideals, which also benefitted his country,” according to the Palace.
He claimed that China’s ascent was equally remarkable as it has lifted millions of people out of extreme poverty and driven global economic growth.
The President also appealed to ASEAN and dialogue partners “to resist the temptation of using the erosion of trust to divide the region and prevent claimants in the South China Sea from reaching solutions that address their own interests and needs,” according to the Palace.
He said countries should create a healthy environment for “negotiations and fair compromises” and refrain from activities that will only escalate conflict in the region.
He renewed his push for the early completion of the code of conduct in the South China Sea to reduce the tension in the disputed territory.
As ASEAN-China Country Coordinator, he said the Philippines will do its part to finish negotiations on the proposed code of conduct as soon as possible.
In the same meeting, the President pushed for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula amid concerns the conflict fuels the tension in the region.
“We urge all concerned parties to continue working towards the realization of lasting peace and stability in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” he said.
The EAS group includes the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States of America.