Controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he would push for the inclusion of Turkey and Mongolia in a grouping of Southeast Asian nations, dismissing concerns about their geographic location.
Duterte said leaders of Turkey and Mongolia told him about their desire to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) while they were in China over the weekend for a summit on a global trade infrastructure project.
Duterte, whose nation holds the rotating ASEAN chairmanship this year, held separate meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and
Mongolian Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat on the sidelines of the summit.
"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,'" Duterte told reporters in the Philippines.
The 10-member ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
A NATO member bordering the Middle East, Turkey straddles Europe and Asia. Its application for membership to the European Union has been bogged down for years.
Mongolia is a landlocked nation wedged between China and Russia.
Geographic location is the first criterion for ASEAN membership, along with recognition by all other members.
Duterte said Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who also attended the summit in China, asked him if he had considered geography in deciding to sponsor Turkey and Mongolia's ASEAN membership.
However Duterte insisted that the two nations were part of the region.
"They are. I would say that they are," Duterte 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 Duterte's remarks, the ASEAN Secretariat said Turkey and Mongolia have "never applied" for membership to the bloc.
"This issue has never come up for discussion in ASEAN," Lee Yoong Yoong, community affairs director of the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat, told AFP via email.
East Timor has for years sought ASEAN membership but only holds observer status.