Ministers fail to agree on key terms at 33rd Asean Summit

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In his intervention during a working dinner with regional leaders here after the opening of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit, Duterte said the Philippines "is prepared to do its part" as the country coordinator of Asean-China Dialogue Relations until 2021.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has made a commitment to the global community to hold an election nearly every time he has travelled overseas, avoided any mention of the election while delivering his speech at the Asean business forum in Singapore.

"It's going to send a message to the worldwide community that we stand by free trade... with rising protectionism and strains on free trade we need to advance the RCEP negotiations", Li said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is attending the summit to rally support for the deal, said he hoped RCEP would be signed and implemented next year.

"What we hope is to have a harmonious relationship with our neighbors", he added.

Singapore is the first leg of Moon's six-day trip that will also take him to Papua New Guinea on Saturday and Sunday for this year's summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum involving Pacific Rim nations.

"The South China Sea situation has been stable, but since US Vice President Mike Pence is expected to attend the summit, the topic might be put forward", a Chinese government expert is quoted as saying.

Dr Mahathir is accompanied by his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali; Minister of Foreign Affairs Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah; Minister of Economic Affairs Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI) Datuk Ignatius Darell Leiking as well as officials from the Prime Minister's Office; Wisma Putra and MITI.

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In his speech, he said "the rise of trade protectionism, resurgent nationalistic movements and inward-looking policies" seemed to be emerging even among ASEAN nations. "It's going to send a message to the global community that we stand by free trade and are determined to push it forward with concrete action".

The sea code of conduct, which remains under negotiation between the 10-member states Asean and China, is expected to ensure peace and stability in the tension-filled South China Sea.

The draft of a statement to be issued by RCEP nations later in the week, which was reviewed by Reuters, said the group would instruct "ministers and negotiators to work toward the full conclusion of the RCEP negotiations in 2019".

The Asean summit takes place as tensions between China and the United States run high and as both jockey for influence in the region. China, which claims virtually all of the sea, has established military positions on disputed outcrops and intimidates fishermen and naval vessels from rival countries. For years, they have been discussing a pact to prevent an escalation of disputes.

"All countries are linked in the same industrial chain in the world today and China and the US are an important part of it".

Bolton has warned repeatedly that China's growing presence in the South China Sea, particularly when forcing Vietnamese and Philippine ships out of their own domestic waters, presents a dire geopolitical threat.

For years, the Philippines and other members of the ASEAN have been pushing for a legally-binding COC amid concerns over China's actions in the South China Sea.

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