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Manila takes US pivot well beyond Sunnylands

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U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he is flanked by some leaders from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the Sunnylands summit in Rancho Mirage, California, on Feb. 16.   © Reuters

The first summit of U.S. and Southeast Asian leaders to be held on American soil has come to an end. Many have written it off as a late-term exercise in symbolism over substance, lacking any clear reaffirmation of future U.S. commitment to Washington's Asian rebalance policy. The sheer unpredictability of the current U.S. election season and the rise of anti-establishment candidates on both sides no doubt deepen these Southeast Asian doubts of U.S. sustained commitment. Will the much-vaunted "pivot to Asia" prove to have been little more than a feint, the "rebalance" more of a wobble?

     Look beyond the Sunnylands estate in California -- venue of the historic Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit -- to the other side of the Pacific, beyond the low common-denominator formality of ASEAN consensus. In the Philippines, the future of the U.S. rebalance and regional support for the concept looks much better than this downbeat take on the Sunnylands summit. A recent court decision cements the Philippines' commitment to the U.S. rebalance before President Benigno Aquino, Southeast Asia's most enthusiastic supporter of President Barack Obama's signature regional policy, steps down in June.

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