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Southeast Asian summit opens, overshadowed by Duterte flap

world Updated: Sep 06, 2016 17:22 IST
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Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his pre-departure message before leaving for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Laos at the Davao International Airport in Davao city, Philippines on September 5.(Reuters)

A summit of Southeast Asian leaders to discuss issues ranging from terrorism to South China Sea tensions opened Tuesday, overshadowed by the Philippine president’s intemperate comments in his debut appearance at the annual meeting. The insult was made more egregious because of who the target was — President Barack Obama.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte occupied centre stage on the eve of the summit when he made comments Monday about Obama that included a “son of a bitch” remark.

He was again in the spotlight Tuesday when he trooped into a conference hall in the Laotian capital of Vientiane wearing a traditional Filipino shirt with sleeves rolled up. The other Southeast Asian leaders were dressed in dark business suits.

Filipinos wear the “barong” shirt on formal occasions too, but with sleeves buttoned down at the wrists. Rolled-up sleeves are considered too casual for any formal setting, let alone a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. He rolled his sleeves down when the Laotian president gave a speech to open the summit.

The 10-nation ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The summit will be followed by a series of other meetings on Wednesday and a summit Thursday between leaders from ASEAN and other countries, including the United States, China, Russia, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Obama arrived in Vientiane on Monday night and will attend Thursday’s summit.