Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte defends skipping meetings for 'power naps' during summit

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Speculation about Mr Duterte's health last month prompted concern that the Philippines could be headed for uncertainty given the highly polarised political climate.

Mr Duterte said conflicts over the South China Sea could best be settled through talks between China and Asean, without the usa and its allies turning up the heat through displays of force as "freedom of navigation exercises". Earlier this month, for the first time, the USA openly called on China to reverse its recent deployment of missiles and other advanced military assets to the area.

At the same time, trade ministers across Asia Pacific have sounded a largely positive tone this week, saying they expect the pact to be agreed sooner rather than later.

The President renewed his invitation to Xi on the sidelines of the APEC leaders' meeting in Lima, Peru last November 2016.

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged their Chinese counterparts to halt militarization of the South China Sea, drawing a rebuke from the Chinese for sending US warships close to islands claimed by Beijing.

Li recalled that China and Singapore established an all-round cooperative partnership progressing with the times when Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to the Southeast Asian country in 2015.

"That's a reality and America and everybody should realize that they are there".

Malaysian Prime Mahathir Mohamad told a business forum ahead of the summit in Singapore that other developed countries would take a cue from the United States and China if their tit-for-tat tariff war were allowed to spiral. That's my only in - that is my only national interest there.

"Prime Minister Lee made the announcement during his opening remarks at the 21st Asean-China Summit, wherein he expressed confidence in the Philippines' ability to continue bringing Asean's relations with China to greater heights", Panelo said.

"China is already in possession (of the South China Sea)".

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This marks a major departure from Washington's traditional policy, where it has broadly supported the regional grouping's efforts to tame China's maritime ambitions through diplomatic engagement and negotiations.

The region already has a nonbinding "Declaration of Conduct" but is working toward a more robust agreement.

That meeting will be closely watched for progress on resolving the standoff over technology policy that has led the USA and China to impose billions of dollars of tariffs on each other's exports.

It also reaffirmed a shared commitment to "maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region".

Beijing had hoped to have the meat of the deal done by the end of this year, but the timetable has now slipped to 2019.

The US' increasing diplomatic assertiveness is partly driven by deepening frustrations over the prolonged negotiations of a code of conduct, a process that formally began nearly two decades ago without any major breakthrough to date.

Duterte has a record of skipping summit sessions, though he did not miss any as host when the Philippines held the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) a year ago.

The USS Reagan also took part in the biggest war games ever staged in and around Japan this month, involving dozens of US and Japanese ships, hundreds of aircraft and thousands of military personnel.

The original intent behind the negotiation of a code of conduct was to place constraints on claimant states' unilateral efforts to challenge the status quo and impose their will at the expense of regional security and worldwide law.

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