Manila, April 26 (IANS) Territorial disputes with China and the Philippines' war on drugs will take the centre-stage at the Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), whose work agenda began on Wednesday.
According to a draft declaration of the summit set to be held on Saturday, Asean does not intend to take a harsh stance against China in its ongoing disputes over South China Sea islands with several regional nations, Efe news reported.
"We share the serious concern expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region," reads the draft declaration.
The document, open to modification during the meeting of senior officials on Thursday and that of ministers on Friday, favours increasing mutual trust, exercising self-restraint, and looking for peaceful solutions instead of resorting to use of force.
The draft makes no mention of China, its construction of artificial islands or its increased military presence in South China Sea.
It also does not mention the International Arbitration Tribunal's July 2016 ruling that favoured Manila on the Scarborough Shoal issue and rejected the historic rights claimed by Beijing over the area.
China, which stakes a claim to most of the South China Sea region, is embroiled in territorial spats with Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam for several islands in the region.
The summit is also expected to focus on the controversial anti-drug campaign unleashed by the host country's President, Rodrigo Duterte.
International non-profit Amnesty International has urged Asean members to condemn over 7,000 deaths -- according to official figures -- that have taken place since Duterte launched the campaign in late June 2016.
Duterte, on the other hand, is expected to make use of the occasion to highlight achievements of his anti-drug campaign before Asean leaders, none of whom has so far objected to his strategy for wiping out crime and drug addiction from the country.
The regional bloc, covering 625 million inhabitants, is formed by Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.