NONTHABURI, Thailand - Malacañang played down the absence of United States President Donald Trump from the 35th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits saying the US President was likely preoccupied with "surviving."
US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will represent Trump in the Summit with ASEAN leaders on Monday.
“We all know for a fact that Mr. Trump is trying to survive there, there is an impeachment going on – process. So, maybe that’s the reason why he did not come," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing in Thailand Sunday.
The Palace spokesman meanwhile said he expects President Rodrigo Duterte to reiterate during the Summit that the Philippines "will not be a pawn to any powerful country."
“I do not know exactly what the US wants in this part of the region. While it’s trying to contain the movement of China, with respect to navigation, I cannot even understand, like what the President said: When they were starting to build structures there they did not stop China and it’s only now that they’re doing it but it’s too late,” he added.
China has built artificial islands where it has put up military structures.
The United States meanwhile has been flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea by conducting what it calls 'freedom of navigation' missions.
During the ASEAN-China Summit, Pres. Duterte called on all South China Sea claimants to exercise self-restraint and refrain from undertaking activities that heighten uncertainty and instability on the disputed waters.
He said land reclamation, militarization, and paramilitary actions in the South China Sea erode trust and confidence among concerned parties and exacerbate tensions in the area.
Duterte also called for the immediate conclusion of a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which is consistent with international laws.
But Panelo said the President did not raise the Philippines’ arbitral victory over China or the Reed Bank incident in ASEAN-China Summit.