Move fast on deals, Duterte urges Asean
President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to hasten the implementation or adoption of regional agreements on public health, a code of conduct in disputed waters and a free trade pact that could become the biggest in the world.
Speaking via videoconferencing at the annual Asean summit hosted this year by Vietnam, Mr. Duterte described the COVID-19 pandemic as the “defining challenge of our generation.”
“Over the year, we strove to achieve a delicate balance of saving lives while keeping our economies afloat. We are now confronted with the complexity and enormity of the recovery process. We aim for a comprehensive recovery to build back better, healthier, and more prosperous societies,” he said.
“Our immediate priority is health security. We have to strengthen our health systems by ensuring the unimpeded supply of medical supplies and technologies, and by enhancing early-warning systems for health emergencies,” he said.
“We must work together to ensure that all nations—rich or poor—will have access to safe vaccines. No one is safe until all of us are safe,” he said as Western nations cornered the world’s supply of potential medication and vaccines against COVID-19 which has affected, as of Thursday, 1,026,004 people in the 10 Asean nations alone.
The President thus called for hastened implementation of the COVID-19 Asean Response Fund, the Asean Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, and the Asean Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.
Free trade agreement
Mr. Duterte also welcomed the conclusion of the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which began in 2012.The RCEP aims to create a free trade agreement among the 10 Asean member economies plus China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, which account for a third of the world’s population and almost 30 percent of global economic production.
The agreement, which is set to be signed on Sunday, will also be open to other economies in Central Asia, South Asia and Oceania.
The President also called for the speedy adoption of the South China Sea Code of Conduct which has been discussed by several Southeast Asian neighbors, including the Philippines, and China for the past 18 years, or since 2002.
“We are committed to the immediate conclusion of a substantive and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. And if I may add, it has been a long time and it is a long wait,” Mr. Duterte said.
“How we deal with this matter lays bare our strengths and weaknesses as a Community. We must act with haste,” he said.
The President said the Philippines remains “one with Asean in transforming the South China Sea into a sea of peace and prosperity for all,” he added.
Mr. Duterte also said the “clear and firm” Philippine position was that the maritime disputes must be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
He also reiterated his declaration at the United Nations General Assembly in September that the 2016 arbitral award that rejected Chinese excessive maritime claims over the South China was “an authoritative interpretation of the application of Unclos.”
“It is now part of international law. And its significance cannot be diminished nor ignored by any country, however big and powerful,” the President said.
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