During President Rodrigo Duterte’s attendance at the China-initiated One Belt, One Road Forum held in Beijing, he set bilateral meetings with Mongolian Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenbat and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and something absurd came out: their intention to join the 10-member ASEAN bloc.
We have to put the following into consideration:
- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was formed to promote regional unity among the countries of Southeast Asia on the basis of consensus and mutual respect, peace, and common cultural links
- The bloc has struggled to find a common ground vis-a-vis Chinese activity in the South China Sea, with much of the countries in ASEAN (Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia) among the claimants
- The Philippines has the chairmanship of ASEAN for the year 2017, and with attention over the country increasing due to Duterte’s brand of populism, intentions to break away from the traditional US alliance, and the publicity coming from the drug war, earning the ire of human rights groups, international organizations, and some Western countries
- Due to this, at the height of the North Korean crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump seeking advice from us as head of ASEAN over what to do.
With the Philippines’ increasing role in the international sphere, it is imperative that we begin seeking new friends in the region which we can have good economic, cultural, and political relations. To be fair, Turkey and Mongolia can be dialogue partners, as we have with China, Japan, South Korea, the European Union, Russia, India, the United States, among others, but membership is already out, considering geography (as Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi pointed out) and geopolitics, despite Duterte’s openness to such. Mongolia can be a good dialogue partner or even an observer, as it is sandwiched between two heavyweights, Russia and China, and has sought to counterbalance relations with both.
As for Turkey, it is dangerous in my opinion. Considering that Turkey has somehow alienated much of its neighbors and allies in their region (the European Union’s bid suspended due to tense relations with countries within the bloc) and Erdogan’s increasing authoritarian tendencies following the failed coup in July 2016 and the April referendum giving him more powers and concerns that Turkey’s founding secular values are at danger. Add to that Turkey’s rumored links with moderate jihadist groups in Syria, this could complicate matters with our efforts at defeating terrorism.
Back at our own neighborhood, another thing raising eyebrows is that it could potentially be put forward even as East Timor’s bid is still pending.
In light of these, we hope sensible heads prevail and Duterte must think before giving this any serious consideration. In the end, this will remain my opinion and it’s up to them to decide.