Why Philippines is defending China at ASEAN meet?

Despite reported presence of naval assets within the disputed sea in the South China Sea, the Philippines has not made any official protest recently.

Outgoing Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stands on attention
Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Reuters

A decade ago, the Philippines was looking at China as the competitor of the growing ASEAN community and the competitor of US when it comes to geopolitical strength and influence over Asia.

But all these perceptions began to change when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shifted the political alignment from the Western powers to China and this has reached a point where the President announced how instrumental China was in suppressing terror in the southern Philippines.

Moreover, former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is now a national legislator, told a gathering of business leaders and ministers during the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit that China has emerged to become a collaborator in Southeast Asia, rather than a threat.

The former lady president said that China has demonstrated that it could also spur the region's (ASEAN) economies.

"Everyone thought China would be a competitor of ASEAN but it's actually a collaborator, a donor and a market," said Arroyo, who was an economist by profession before joining politics.

As the Philippines is hosting this year's ASEAN Summit, China has become one of ASEAN's dialogue partners. Arroyo challenged ASEAN delegates present that the ASEAN community should work to achieve full integration in 2025 to compete globally with other economic regions.

Arroyo also suggested to break down non-tariff barriers to encourage free flow of goods, services and labor.

Despite the growing warm relations between China and the ASEAN community, the South China Sea issue has become the subject of territorial disagreements between China and ASEAN members but Chinese Premiere Li Keqiang said that the finalization of the code of conduct framework for the South China Sea, once completed, will be a stabilizer for the region.

Li Keqiang also told international delegates and journalists in Manila said that China's greatest hope is for peace and stability in the South China Sea.

China and ASEAN representatives in August this year agreed to establish a framework for the code of conduct in the South China Sea to diffuse tensions in the region that could otherwise spark an armed confrontation.

Though China and its ASEAN allies claim that the framework will promote stability in the region, Li Keqiang did not give a time frame when the framework will be completed.