ASEAN makes concession to China

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte faced pushback on Saturday at a regional summit over his efforts to weaken Southeast Asian resistance to Chinese expansionism in the contested South China Sea, diplomats said.

The Statement briefly addressed South China Sea tensions, saying "we took note of the serious concerns expressed by some Leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area".

China has sparked regional concern by turning reefs and shoals in contested areas into artificial islands, installing military facilities and air strips on some of them.

But diplomats said other ASEAN nations, unhappy with intense Chinese lobbying of the Philippines, sought to toughen up the chairman's statement and there were hot debates on the issue in Manila.

In July, a United Nations arbitration court sided with Manila, which filed the case in January 2013, and ruled that Beijing's ownership claim of almost the entire South China Sea has no legal basis.

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Two weeks into Mr Duterte's presidency a year ago, the Hague court ruled in favour of the Philippines, angering China.

References to China's "land reclamation and militarization" included in last year's statement were omitted.

China's foreign ministry on Tuesday said it is encouraged by recent statements made by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding ongoing disputes in the South China Sea.

At the opening session, Duterte underlined the core priorities of the Philippines' chairmanship, which are building a people-oriented and people-centred ASEAN, maintaining a peaceful and stable region, co-operating in maritime security and advancing inclusive and innovative-led growth, promoting ASEAN's resiliency, and promoting ASEAN as a model for regionalism and as a global player. "We reaffirmed the importance of the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence. without resorting to the threat or use of force".

"We respected the Philippines' views and cooperated", the diplomat said.

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As part of his engagement with China, Duterte has decided not to press it to abide by the arbitration award anytime soon. "That only shows the president is trying everything to appease China", according to the South China Morning Post.

"On the ground, there is no hindrance to China achieving absolute dominance in the South China Sea, whether in military or civilian terms, regardless of parameters set by worldwide law", said Jay Batongbacal, from the University of the Philippines.

"The lobbying is quite intense". From left, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.

Diplomatic sources said China's stance was resisted by some ASEAN members, including Vietnam and Indonesia, a non-claimant in the South China Sea but has been pestered by Chinese fishermen's encroachment in its waters.

Duterte will find solace from the storm of criticism in ASEAN, which has a bedrock policy forbidding member states from meddling in each other's domestic affairs.

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