Australia is getting ready to host a summit of the ASEAN nations as part of the ongoing however asymmetrical partnerships between Canberra and the nations of South East Asia. Australia has long attempted to balance its identity as a white majority member of the (British) Commonwealth with its proximity to South East Asia. The balancing act has not always gone successfully as Australia has been known to hector potential South East Asian partners in the same way that its traditional allies, the US, Britain and Canada are prone to do. Thus, Duterte has decided to reserve his presence for what he believes are productive endeavours and skip the ASEAN-Australian meeting that may be less of a positive summit than a kangaroo court, filled with neo-colonial bigotry.
In particular, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been a frequent critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s tough stance on narco-crime. Duterte’s Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque has stated that Duterte will not attend the ASEAN-Australia summit because of his commitment to address the Philippine Military Academy on 18 March where he will speak before young military officers.
Far from being a ‘stay at home leader’, Duterte has travelled to many nations since taking office in 2016 including China, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Peru, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brunei and Bahrain.
Notably though, Duterte has turned down invitations to visit the United States and European Union. Duterte has shown a commitment to only visit countries where there is mutual respect and the opportunity for mutual partnerships in areas ranging from trade and security cooperation to cultural exchange. Ironically, while some of Duterte’s critics have lambasted him for his frequent trips abroad, it has been Duterte’s ability to work with, connect with and strike deals with foreign heads of state, that has made him a unique asset to a new multipolar Philippines that has recently been rated the number one investment destination in the world, due largely to Duterte’s domestic policies and his skillful foreign relations.
However, Duterte has made it clear that he has no plans to visit countries or regions where his nation will be insulted and where he will be lectured to rather than listened to in the manner befitting a respected head of state. While the Philippines continues to do business with both the EU and US, Duterte is not willing to extend efforts to places whose business deals are conditional, when he could be spending his time working on a combination of domestic issues and with countries who are able to do business on a respectful level – including those nations that look to objective benefits before attempting ideological manipulation. This is especially important in a developing country with a growing economy looking to assert itself on the world stage after decades of inadequate leadership.
Duterte has proved once again to be a good barometer for where the best business and security opportunities in the modern world lie. According to the Duterte equation, one can tick off the US, Australia and the EU from that list.