MANILA - Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ended their summit Saturday, discussing threats to regional peace and stability, particularly on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea, and other issues relevant to the 10-member regional bloc.
"We exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest and concern...We had engaged in a productive and fruitful deliberation of ASEAN's work in the community building process," Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who chaired the meeting, said at the summit's closing press conference.
"We acknowledged the importance of ASEAN cooperation in addressing issues that affect peace, security and prosperity of the region including terrorism, violent extremism, piracy, human trafficking and illegal drugs," he said.
Duterte and some ASEAN foreign ministers said the leaders discussed the tension on the Korean Peninsula and agreed that the United States should tone down its confrontation stance toward North Korea and give China the chance to rein it in.
The Philippine president unexpectedly did not read out an ASEAN chairman's statement with an official summary of the event, and hours after the meeting was over, the document had still not been released.
But according to a draft earlier seen by Kyodo News, the leaders "expressed grave concern over recent developments in the Korean Peninsula," including North Korea's two nuclear tests in 2016 and its subsequent ballistic missile launches, and agreed that its actions "have resulted in an escalation of tensions that can affect peace and stability in the entire region."
It says they urged North Korea to "immediately comply" with all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and "stressed the importance of self-restraint in the interest of maintaining peace, security and stability in the region and the world."
The leaders also reiterated their "full support for the denuclearizaton of the Korean Peninsula" and urged "concerned parties to explore all avenues for immediate dialogue," it says.
According to ASEAN sources, Duterte told his counterparts in the closed-door plenary session that the United States should withdraw from the Korean Peninsula and allow China to handle it, while the latter should urge North Korea to stop "saber-rattling with nuclear weapons."
Duterte said if the current tensions lead to nuclear war, "no one will win," the source said.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
On the issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Duterte said at the closing press conference that ASEAN leaders hope to have achieved a framework on a proposed code of conduct before the end of this year.
Duterte earlier in the day had called for "peaceful resolution of disputes" and respect for rule of law, saying, "In an era where there can be much uncertainty, we must faithfully adhere to the supremacy of the law and rely on the primacy of rules as responsible members of the international community."
The draft chairman's statement says the leaders were committed to peaceful resolution of disputes, "including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force."
ASEAN member-states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have claims that overlap those of China in the South China Sea through which much international commerce passes, and where marine resources, and potentially oil and gas deposits, are abundant.
China continues to reject a ruling issued by an international arbitration court in The Hague last year that invalidated its sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, though Duterte's administration has opted not to push for China's compliance, in the hope of forging closer economic ties.
China has reclaimed land in the South China Sea and built facilities on it, including those military in nature, despite a 2002 agreement with ASEAN not to change the status quo in the area.
The draft statement says the ASEAN leaders "took note of the serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area, which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region."
They "reaffirmed the importance of enhancing mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities, avoiding actions, such as land reclamation and militarization that may further complicate the situation."
The draft does not refer to the arbitral ruling, consistent with the current Philippine position.
It says the ASEAN leaders "welcomed the progress to complete a framework of the code of conduct in the South China Sea by middle of this year, in order to facilitate the early conclusion of an effective COC."
On the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the leaders "emphasized that the sluggish economic environment and trends towards protectionism increases the need to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial RCEP Agreement."
The draft statement says the ASEAN leaders urged the grouping's "dialogue partners," which include the United States, "to honor the valued principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states, including respect for the right of every member state to pursue its national interests free from external interference."
Duterte, in particular, has rejected Western countries' criticism over his bloody campaign against illegal drugs in the Philippines.
The draft shows that other matters tackled included East Timor's application to become an ASEAN member. Some officials said there was no mention of the Rohingya issue in Myanmar.