From March 19-21, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was on a two-day official visit to Myanmar. Apart from affirming the importance of the bilateral relationship, the trip was part of his swing through Southeast Asia during Manila’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (See: “Duterte’s ASEAN Tour Continues With Singapore, Cambodia Visits”).
On his trip — his first outside the country this year — Duterte met with several top Myanmar officials including President U Htin Kyaw, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and Myanmar’s Armed Forces Chief Min Aung Hlaing. He also held other engagements including meetings with Philippine businessmen and overseas Filipinos in Myanmar.
During Duterte’s meeting with Myanmar’s president, both sides discussed a wide range of matters including promoting Philippine investment in Myanmar and strengthening cooperation in agriculture, food manufacturing, energy production, and tourism. The main deliverable was the inking of a memorandum of understanding on food security and agricultural cooperation between the agriculture ministries of both countries.
The other item of note was Duterte handing of a $300,000 symbolic donation to Suu Kyi to go to Myanmar’s humanitarian efforts in Rakhine State. Suu Kyi has been fiercely criticized for presiding over communal conflict there that has displaced more than 100,000 Muslim Rohingya from their homes.
Though other Southeast Asian states have made similar contributions previously, according to the Presidential Communications Office, this was the biggest donation made so far by an ASEAN member state to Rakhine State so far this year. An official release noted that the gift was the Philippines’ way of thanking Myanmar for being among the first to help when the country was hit by Typhoon Haiyan back in 2013, the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record.
As has been the case with some of his other Southeast Asian trips, Duterte also did use the occasion as an opportunity to dwell on some of the key items on his domestic agenda. During his meeting with the overseas Philippine community, he emphasized the importance of his ongoing campaign against drugs and criminality, which has run into some complications of late (See: “How Will the Philippines’ Military Join Duterte’s Drug War?”). And during his remarks at the official banquet held in his honor, Duterte also stressed the threats of terrorism and illegal drugs while calling for greater bilateral collaboration in other areas as well.
Following his visit, Duterte was immediately off to Thailand for a two-day official visit, which will round off his tour of the other nine ASEAN member states less than a year after he officially took office last June. The Philippines is chairing ASEAN during the regional organization’s 50th anniversary.