MANILA, Philippines – US President Donald Trump pitched for “friendship and partnership” between the United States and member-nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), affirming that his government seeks its partners to be strong, independent and prosperous.
“I speak here on behalf of the 350 million Americans with a message of friendship and partnership. I’m here to advance peace, to promote security and to work with you to achieve a truly free and open Indo-Pacific, where we are proud and we have sovereign nations and we thrive and everybody wants to prosper,” he said in an opening statement at the ASEAN-US Summit, one of the side meetings at the ongoing 31st ASEAN Summit and related meetings being hosted by Manila.
“We want our partners in the region to be strong, independent and prosperous, in control of their own destinies and satellites to no one; these are the principles we have for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he added.
Trump praised the ASEAN for bringing together for five decades “a vital assembly of nations to build consensus of on critical issues facing the nations and the world.”
“The US remains committed to ASEAN’s central role as a regional forum for total cooperation. This diplomatic partnership advances the security and prosperity of the American people and the people of all Indo-Pacific nations,” he said.
“Today we celebrate your incredible success and we also seek economic partnerships on the basis of fairness and reciprocity,” he added.
Trump boasted that the US “has been moving ahead, really brilliantly on the economic basis” since the November 2016 elections.
He said that the value of its stocks has risen to US$5.5 trillion and it has the lowest unemployment in 17 years. He said that companies are also coming back to the US.
“The enthusiasm level is highest ever recorded, so we are very happy about that and we think that bodes well for the region because of the relationship that we have,” he said.
As Trump talked, protests happened outside the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City.
Militant groups said that the regional bloc and the US should also be talking about human rights and the disputes in the South China Sea.
“US President Donald Trump and Philippine Pres. Rodrigo Duterte talking about human rights is one big sick joke,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan.
“These representatives of state terrorism have a distorted notion of people’s rights, and the people have nothing to expect from their upcoming empty talk on human rights, if they do talk about it,” she added.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate also criticized Trump’s offer to mediate in the South China Sea row, saying it would “only make matters worse rather than making it a zone of peace and development.”
“The US would only try to make a deal that would make it come out on top to the detriment of other claimant countries,” he said.
“What the Philippines must do is to assert our sovereignty over our legitimate and valid historical claims,” Zarate added.