Duterte indicates Philippines will defer to Beijing on S. China Sea matters

Duterte absent for ASEAN meetings with Australian PM and S. Korean President, yet was present for a meeting with the Chinese premier

Duterte at the ASEAN meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Nov. 14

Duterte at the ASEAN meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Nov. 14 (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – At the ASEAN Summit in Singapore, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte failed to attend key meetings with ASEAN leaders and heads of state from Australia and South Korea on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

However, Duterte made sure he was present for the summit meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, which was scheduled in between the two sessions he missed with leaders from Australia and South Korea.

The summit meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took place at 8:30 a.m. with the Philippines represented by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. who covered for the absent Duterte.

The ASEAN leaders meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was scheduled for 9:30 a.m., where Duterte was present and ready to engage with leaders on issues concerning the South China Sea.

However, only a short time later at 11:00 a.m., Duterte was nowhere in sight when ASEAN leaders were scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-In, reports ABC-CBN.

Duterte is also creating some concern for comments he made before meeting with the Chinese Premier, which seem to indicate that his administration will defer to China on how the Philippines should conduct affairs in the South China Sea.

Duterte was asked by reporters about the expected Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea, which Beijing expects to be completed within three years.

"I'd like to tell China, that is why at all costs we must have the COC. So you're there, you're in possession, you occupied it, then tell us what route shall we take, and what kind of behavior you...(cut off by reporter)," Duterte was quoted by Rappler.

Recent reports suggest that there has been some progress in recent months towards opening negotiations on the COC framework. ASEAN nations have reportedly all submitted their official positions with regard to claims in the South China Sea.

Negotiations on the COC are expected to face delays because of China’s negotiating strategy, which is to “deal with less powerful countries on a one-on-one basis” rather than allow ASEAN nations the benefit of collective bargaining, reports ABC-CBN.

Despite Beijing's blatant efforts to militarize land features across the South China Sea, Li Keqiang claims that Beijing has no intention of seeking “hegemony or expansion.” He claims that China seeks only “a harmonious relationship” with its neighbors.