Duterte: Turkey and Mongolia are in Southeast Asia, so let them join ASEAN

duterte erdogan
Duterte meets Erdogan. Photo by Christopher “Bong” Go.

President Duterte said today (Tuesday, May 16) that he would push for Turkey and Mongolia to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), dismissing concerns about their geographic location.

The president said the leaders of Turkey and Mongolia told him about their desire to join the bloc while they were attending China’s “One Belt One Road” trade and infrastructure summit in Beijing last weekend.

He said he held separate meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mongolian Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat on the sidelines of the summit.

At a conference after he arrived at Davao airport early this morning, the president said: “They want to join ASEAN and since I am now the chair, the Philippines is, they wanted me to sponsor their entry and I said, ‘yes, why not’.”

The 10-member ASEAN bloc currently includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Turkey, which straddles Europe and Asia, borders the Middle East and is a member of NATO. Its application to join the European Union has been bogged down for many years.

Mongolia is a landlocked nation bordered by China and Russia.

As reflected by the name of the group, geographic location is currently the first criterion for ASEAN membership.

The president said Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who also attended the summit, asked him if he had considered geography in deciding to sponsor Turkey and Mongolia’s ASEAN membership.

However he bizarrely insisted that the two nations were in fact part of the region. “They are. I would say that they are,” he said.

“Turkey seems to be ambivalent on whether to be a bridge of Europe and Asia or being an Asian. Sometimes they say they are part of Asia. Sometimes they say they are a bridge of Asia to Europe.”

Asked about the president’s remarks, the ASEAN Secretariat told that Turkey and Mongolia had never applied for membership.

East Timor and Papua New Guinea, which are geographically in Southeast Asia, have sought ASEAN membership for many years, but currently only hold observer status.

There are also 10 countries that are “dialogue partners” of ASEAN: Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.