PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was unusually silent about the United States yesterday when she delivered her speech marking the formal opening of the 40th Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Ministerial Meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center.
Her decision to avoid mention of the US, whether intentional or not, came on the heels of the decision of US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice not to attend the Manila meeting.
In her speech, the President only mentioned Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, and even Russia for the East Asia Summit among Asean’s dialog partners.
Mrs. Arroyo highlighted two issues for which Washington has been strongly criticized—the invasion of Iraq and opposition to certain concessions being asked by developing countries that led to the collapse of trade talks under the aegis of the World Trade Organization. “At the time in the world when there are strains in alliances from Iraq to WTO, it is essential that new vital alliances will be forged to keep the world stable and strong. Some sort of East Asia community will be a bold step in that direction.”
The President also pointed to India and China, considered to be the region’s superpowers of which the US is wary, as dialog partners that can help Asean move forward as an economic and political force.
“The rise of China and India as major economic powers provides us with fresh competition as well as cooperation. The WTO’s Doha development round has stalled, making it more difficult to agree on global trade rules but also underscoring the importance of regional arrangements to maintain the pace of our trading growth.”
US Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said he did not think Mrs. Arroyo deliberately left out his government in her remarks even as he expressed surprise that Washington was not mentioned.
“I cannot say yet what we make out of it. It is not for me to say,” Lussenhop said. “But what I can say is that the US remains to be a key ally and partner of Asean.”
Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, for his part, said the President’s decision not to mention the US in her speech should not be taken as a “snub” after Rice skipped the Asean meeting again.
“No, no, no. The United States, historically, is a very important partner not only for the Philippines but for Asean as a whole. It is our oldest and strongest ally, and we expect that relationship to continue to be strong,” Bunye said.
”Secretary Rice has sent her deputy, Ambassador John Negroponte to represent her. I don’t think the President felt slighted with that. It was not a snub for us.”