Philippine President Duterte makes first official visit

Duterte: Will wrap up regional tour here.

Many academics and international relations experts have pointed out that Asia has become more dynamic and confident. Among the Asian leaders who refuse to follow others is Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who was due to arrive in Bangkok on an official visit last night.

President Duterte's visit to Thailand will conclude his introductory trips to neighbouring countries since he took office in June last year. This year, the leader has taken on more responsibility as the Philippines is now chair of Asean, and the association turns 50 on Aug 8. Thailand and the Philippines have had formal ties for almost 68 years, and the relationship has never been sour.

So, while the usual introductions and talks about strengthening ties can be regarded as routine, it will be interesting to hear what the two leaders discuss regarding the similarities and controversies the two countries share.

President Duterte is facing international criticism from a human rights perspective because of the large number of killings resulting from the Filipino war on drugs. The Thai government, which came to power after a military coup, also sees pervasive illicit drugs as a threat to national security.

The two leaders are expected to discuss intelligence cooperation and share experiences in dealing with the drug problem as well as restoring peace in restive areas in the South.

Thailand and the Philippines have been allies of the US for a long time, but recently they have been cooperating more with China.

The Philippines and Thailand have a great deal of respect for each other as both are among the founding members of Asean. On a closer look, Mr Duterte's agenda for this trip reflects his plan for Asean which follows the theme "Partnering for Change, Engaging the World".

During his speech to kick off the 2017 Asean chairmanship, President Duterte emphasised his priorities to strengthen Asean resilience and promote Asean as a model of regionalism and a global player.

He reiterated his aspiration to establish "a truly rules-based, people-oriented, people-centred community where the people would continue to participate in and benefit fully from the ongoing process of Asean integration and community-building".

Similarly with trade and business, he said, "we must forge on with increased people-to-people interaction through commerce, travel and education. We must strive for a region that promotes and maintains peace, security and stability."

He also vowed to "protect the welfare of migrant workers, and ensure social protection for the vulnerable sectors of society".

Besides a memorandum of understanding and agreements on cooperation in science and technology, tourism and the production of swamp and dairy buffalos to be signed today, the Philippine delegation will meet business people to boost trade ties from the current worth of US$9 billion (about 313 billion baht) a year, and meet the Filipino community in Thailand, which has grown to over 16,000.

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