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PM Lee to attend Asean Summit in Manila, North Korea nuclear issue high on agenda

MANILA – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will attend the 30th Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Manila on Friday (April 28) and Saturday (April 29), as the grouping celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) arrives for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila on April 28, 2017. The Asean summit, where leaders will discuss territorial disputes, terrorism and economic integration, takes place in the Philippine capital on April 28-29. Photo: AFP

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) arrives for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila on April 28, 2017. The Asean summit, where leaders will discuss territorial disputes, terrorism and economic integration, takes place in the Philippine capital on April 28-29. Photo: AFP

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MANILA – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will attend the 30th Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Manila on Friday (April 28) and Saturday (April 29), as the grouping celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

“Asean leaders will meet to discuss ways to strengthen Asean centrality and unity in line with the Asean Community Vision 2025, as Asean celebrates its Golden Jubilee,” said a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The Asean Community Vision 2025, which was adopted in 2015, is a 10-year roadmap for the grouping to become a politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible, and people-oriented entity.

“They (the leaders) will also exchange views on Asean’s external relations and discuss regional and international issues,” the statement added.

The 30th Asean Summit is the first of two meetings among Asean leaders that the Philippines will be hosting this year as the Asean Chair.

Among the issues expected to be high to be agenda this weekend are Asean’s approach towards tensions in the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula.

Asean will reportedly take a softer than usual tone with regard to China’s artificial island building in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has pivoted the Philippines towards China away from the United States – his country’s treaty ally.

On Thursday, he said he would not pressure China during the Asean Summit, adding that there was no point protesting as Beijing could not be stopped.

To dial down tensions, Asean and China have agreed to complete a framework on the code of conduct in the South China Sea by the middle of this year.

Manila-based political analyst Richard Heydarian told TODAY that “by all indications, Duterte is going to stick to the lowest common denominator in discussing South China Sea, (and) not refer to the Philippine arbitration case”.

In a ruling last year, the Hague dismissed Beijing’s expansive claims in the disputed waterway but China has ignored the ruling.

Instead, Mr Heydarian said the Filipino leader is likely to focus on multilateral cooperation such as terrorism and transnational crime, his “pet projects”.

Tensions have spiked in the Korean Peninsula, with Washington moving naval assets to the region amid robust war rhetoric from Pyongyang.

Pyongyang is said to have requested for Asean’s support to prevent a “nuclear holocaust”.

On Friday, Asean’s foreign ministers issued a statement expressing “grave concern” over tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

But it remains to be seen if the grouping will be able to make a concrete impact on the issue.

Dr Termsak Chalermpalanupap, a lead researcher on political and security affairs at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute told TODAY that the “Korean Peninsula (issue) is too big for the Asean leaders to have any significant role”.

“Just expect them (the leaders) to call for self-restraint and non-use of force to settle the differences. Asean has always supported denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, partly because we have a nuclear weapon-free zone in South-east Asia,” he added.

Mr Lee will be accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean will be the Acting Prime Minister in Mr Lee’s absence, said the PMO statement.

The Republic takes over the rotating chairmanship of Asean next year.

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