KUALA LUMPUR — It was a meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, held in the the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, in a region known for historically close trading links with the Southeast Asian countries to the south, including Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Surprisingly, given the location and the commemoration, ASEAN member state Malaysia issued a statement on behalf of the bloc criticizing China over its territorial claims in the contested South China Sea. The statement noted that recent developments in the disputed sea — where China has been building artificial islands and constructing what it calls “defensive facilities” while the U.S., an ally of the Philippines, has been conducting naval patrols and reconnaissance flights in the name of freedom of navigation — had raised concerns about a spillover clash with China. Those fears, the statement added, had “the potential to undermine peace”. “We stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the ASEAN foreign ministers said. But in an about-turn more startling than the earlier statement, Malaysia, which chaired the bloc in 2015 before passing the leadership to Laos, a Communist-ruled country with close ties to China, led the way in issuing a sudden retraction, saying there were “urgent amendments to be made.”
MANILA — If crowds are anything to go by, the May 9 presidential election is a foregone conclusion. Two days before the vote, leading candidate Rodrigo Duterte drew between 300,000 to 500,000 people at his final election rally at a landmark grandstand near Manila’s Rizal Park. The turnout was at least double that of any other candidate. “This is the next president of the Philippines,” yelled supporter Angel Valeron, one of thousands of fist-pumping “Dutertards,” clad in red t-shirts bearing the slogan “Iron fist,” a reference to the 71- year-old Duterte’s no-nonsense style of running Davao on the southern island of Mindanao. “Dutertard” is a slur leveled at Duterte supporters by rivals, but since appropriated by backers of the Davao City mayor in self-styled defiance. As mayor for 22 years, Duterte oversaw a clean-up of the once dangerous and chaotic city, allegedly even participating in the extrajudicial shooting of alleged criminals. Duterte said he will do the same nationally if elected, telling the crowd in Manila that he will “butcher” criminals. “If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out,” Duterte said, drawing a thunderous roar from the crowd.
MANILA — In his final State of the Nation speech as president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III declared that his government had curbed corruption, long deemed a barrier to foreign investment, and overseen growth in a country once derided as “the sick man of Asia.” “More than five years have passed since we put a stop to the culture of ‘wang-wang,’ not only [on] our streets, but in society at large,” Aquino said in July 2015. “Wang wang,” note James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu, co-authors of “Why Nations Fail,” a much-lauded book published in 2012, is a term “derived from the blaring sirens of politicians’ and elites’ cars urging common people to get out of the way,” and is used in the Philippines to refer to corruption. Aquino’s July 2015 speech echoed his first national address as president, five years earlier, in which he asserted: “Do you want the corrupt held accountable? So do I. Do you want to see the end of wang-wang, both on the streets and in the sense of entitlement that has led to the abuse that we have lived with for so long? ” Fighting corruption and building confidence in the country’s once-laggard economy have been key themes throughout Aquino’s term in office, which is now coming to a close with voters scheduled to elect a successor on May 9.