PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that the leaders of Turkey and Mongolia have expressed interest in joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a move he would support.
“They want to join Asean and since I am now the chair, the Philippines is, they wanted me to sponsor their entry and I said, “Yes why not?’,” he said Tuesday, dismissing concerns regarding their geographical location, as reported the AFP.
The discussions reportedly occurred when Duterte had bilateral meetings with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mongolian PM Jargaltulga Erdenebat during his time in Beijing over the weekend for China’s Silk Road trade and infrastructure summit.
Asean currently has 10 member states: the Philippines, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam. Being geographically situated in Southeast Asia is the most important criterion for entry into the regional bloc.
Sri Lanka, which is situated much closer to Asean than Mongolia or Turkey, was rejected from joining at the organisation’s formation four decades ago.
A direct southern neighbour of several Asean countries, prominent Australians have also long spoken about the wealthy Anglophone country joining the bloc.
Turkey, situated more than 6,000km east of Burma between Syria and Greece, is clearly not part of Southeast Asia.
Instead, Duterte perhaps sees eye-to-eye with Erdogan: a popularly elected strongman accused of diluting Turkey’s democratic credentials and human rights.
“Turkey seems to be ambivalent whether to be a bridge of Europe and Asia or being an Asian. They are not clear there. They have always been an ambivalent view,” said Duterte as reported by The Star.
“Sometimes, they say that they are part of Asia. Sometimes, they say that they are the bridge of Asia to Europe.”
Duterte reportedly brought up the matter with Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who questioned his view that Turkey and Mongolia could join Asean.
“She said, ‘Have you considered the physical geography whether they are part of the Asean or not?’ They are. I would say that they are,” stated the Philippines president.
A congressional panel found this week that an impeachment complaint against Duterte filed by opposition figure Gary Alejano “lacked substance.”
Duterte has been widely criticised for endorsing summary executions of thousands of Filipinos in his war on drugs.