On his return from his trip to Beijing, China, where he attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, President Duterte made a surprising announcement that the leaders of turkey and of Mongolia had asked him to sponsor their membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“Since I am now the chairman and the Philippines is hosting ASEAN, I sais, Yes, why not?” This is President Duterte, ever open to new ideas, even – as in this case – the idea faces a seeming geographical impossibility.
Turkey is at the farthest, westernmost end of the great Asian landmass, over 8,000 kilometers, two-thirds around the globe from Southeast Asia. Mongolia is much closer in central Asia, sandwiched between Russia and China, but still a long way from the region occupied by the ten ASEAN nations of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Quite possibly, the Turkish and Mongolian leaders had in mind the kind of relationship tat ASEAN now has with eight other countries – the United States, Russia, China, India, Australia, Japan, South
Korea, and New Zealand. In November this year, this big group will be meeting in Manila to climax our chairmanship of ASEAN this year.
The ten ASEAN nations are bound by common guiding principles of peace, amity, and cooperation among their peoples, despite the great differences in their systems of government and in their political inclinations. They are moving towards closer economic coordination but their strength is less dependent on this than on their readiness to listen to and help one another, without ever calling for a divisive vote on any issue, agreeing and acting only by consensus. In so many ways, it is a family of nations.
Over the years, several other countries have become its partners, and in their annual gatherings, they develop relationships greater than those normally achieved through diplomatic channels. This is what may have moved President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Prime Minister Jargaltulgyn Erdenebat of Mongolia to talk with President Duterte about joining ASEAN or its partner nations.
Their move speaks volumes about ASEAN and how well the rest of the world regards it today on its 50th anniversary – and about President Duterte, its chairman this year, who quickly responded with great openness to their move to be part of ASEAN and its dialogue partners.