31st ASEAN Summit to tackle North Korea, South China Sea, terrorism

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 11) — Tension in North Korea, the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, and the rising threat of extremism in the region are among the top concerns for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits.

The Philippines is chairing the event, which runs from November 10 to 14 and gathers heads of state and government from the ten member countries and its dialogue partners. The Summit is ASEAN’s highest policy-making body.

Related: PH ready for ASEAN Summit on Monday

The rest of the ASEAN member states are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam . Its dialogue partners are Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.

Related: PH welcomes more world leaders today

The leaders will adopt, endorse, or sign outcome documents tackling extremism, climate change, economic integration, malnutrition, ASEAN external relations, women empowerment, youth, poverty, and other issues. Here is a rundown of the hot topics world leaders are expected to tackle.

Tension in Korean Peninsula

The threat of nuclear war in the region is top of mind for regional leaders. Heads of government have denounced North Korea’s continued missile testing, amid heightened sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. The hermit country sent two ballistic missiles over Japan in September.

READ: What happens if Kim attacks? 5 things to know about North Korea

Australia, Japan, and the United States appealed to ASEAN to maximize pressure on the rogue state.  A defiant North Korea, on the other hand, has urged regional leaders to stay “impartial and practical.”

Combatting extremism

The country hosts the ASEAN Summit less than a month after declaring the end of the war against ISIS-inspired terrorists in Marawi City, the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur around 1,500 kilometers south of Manila. Some foreign rebels, mostly from neighboring  Malaysia and Indonesia, fought with the Maute group in Marawi.  The incident has prompted the Philippines to sign in June a trilateral agreement with Indonesia and Malaysia on stopping the spread of international terrorism.

ASEAN defense ministers on Sunday reiterated their commitment to work closely against terrorism and extremism. They issued a joint statement in October.

Officials on ground zero are urging ASEAN leaders to prioritize the Marawi crisis and the impact of extremism in the region.

Related: World leaders urged to prioritize Marawi crisis in ASEAN summit

South China Sea

In August, China and ASEAN leaders produced a framework for a code of conduct on dealing with the maritime  disputes in  the South China Sea. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano expressed hope that negotiations for a binding code of conduct could  begin, but experts doubt discussions will progress soon.

Related: Experts doubt ASEAN, China will reach Code of Conduct on South China Sea during summit

During the 30th ASEAN Summit in April, the Chairman’s Statement of President Rodrigo Duterte  dropped a reference to the arbitral tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines’ claim over the disputed islands.  This raised concern among critics that the Philippines is going soft on its claims in the contested area under strong pressure from Beijing..

Since then, the joint communique signed by ASEAN Foreign Ministers in April denounced land reclamation in the area. Cayetano said he was initially not inclined to condemn such activities.

Human rights and crisis

Regional leaders are meeting United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday. While the agenda for the meeting has not been released, the  UN has previously called on ASEAN members to address their human rights issues.

Among the region’s top concerns is the refugee crisis involving the Rohingya, a Burmese Muslim minority. Thousands of Rohingya members poured into Bangladesh after a military crackdown.  Asean leaders may raise this issue with  Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, a democracy icon,  whose perceived silence on the issue has  drawn criticism worldwide.

The Philippines has also come under fire for its human rights record in its bloody war on drugs. However, Duterte has expressed his preference for discussing human rights concerns in another venue.

Related: Duterte wants separate summit for human rights violations

Department of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar told CNN Philippines leaders are expected to sign the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers on Monday.

Other humanitarian issues, such as climate change and disaster response, are also expected to be brought up during the summit.


The ASEAN members’ total trade in 2015 stood at $2.43 trillion (around P124.5 at the current exchange rate). This is 7.6 percent of the world’s total trade that year, with the ASEAN ranking fourth after China, U.S., and Germany.

The ASEAN-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Agreement and ASEAN-Hong Kong China Investment Agreement will be signed on Sunday. The accords are a result of a three-year negotiation between ASEAN and Hong Kong, which is on the top ten trade partners of the region.

Bolivar said the leaders will release a statement on the  Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement between ASEAN and Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand.

Myanmar’s State Counselor and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to speak at the ASEAN Business Investment Summit on Sunday.

The event  highlights the launch of the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network, which aims to help micro- and small enterprises.

CNN Philippines Correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.