Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte announced his intention to skip the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Washington next month, telling Filipinos he doesn’t want to take a stance that could go against his successor who will be elected the same week.
Previously, Duterte had repeatedly said he would not travel to the United States, a country which he has not visited as president and with which he’s had a stormy relationship because of Washington’s criticism of his administration’s deadly war on drugs. As he prepares to leave office in June, Duterte faces an International Criminal Court investigation over the drug war, which has left thousands of Filipinos dead.
“If it is a working conference, there might be some agreements or commitments that will be made and I might take a stand that will not be acceptable to the next administration,” he said, without elaborating.
In his weekly televised speech to the nation late Tuesday, Duterte cited the May 9 General Election as the main reason for declining the invitation to attend the summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations scheduled for May 12-13.
“By that time, the elections will be over and we will find out who the next president will be,” Duterte said, according to transcripts released Wednesday. “So I told them it would not look good if I attend and there will be a new president.”
Duterte’s six-year term will end when his successor takes office on June 30.
Duterte also cited “personal reasons” for declining President Biden’s invitation, adding that U.S. officials had wanted him to attend but he refused “as a matter of principle.”
During the meeting with Southeast Asian leaders in the U.S. capital, Biden is expected to seek to strengthen relationships with ASEAN members to counter China’s perceived aggression and military expansionism in the contested South China Sea.
This is not the first time that Duterte will be missing an ASEAN-related meeting. Last year, he cited “pressing domestic concerns in light of the surge of COVID-19 cases” as an excuse to not attend an emergency summit of ASEAN leaders who met in Jakarta to discuss the post-coup crisis in Myanmar.
As president, Duterte pivoted the Philippines’ foreign policy closer to China and away from the United States, the country’s staunchest military ally for the past seven decades. He has traveled to China six times as president and called leader Xi Jinping a close friend while insisting that Manila cannot go to war with Beijing.
Duterte also banked on Chinese money to fund his infrastructure projects, and of late, he has profusely thanked Beijing for sending COVID-19 vaccines ahead of other nations.
In 2020, Duterte vowed to skip a U.S.-ASEAN summit – which was later postponed indefinitely because of the global pandemic – after the U.S. Embassy refused to issue a visa to Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the former police chief who implemented his administration’s brutal war on drugs. He also threatened to scrap an agreement that allowed American troops to hold large-scale joint military exercises here, but later reversed his stand.
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