PBBM seeks closer US ties as he rejects ‘provocative action’ in WPS
Washington D.C.—President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and US President Joe Biden met at the White House as of press time Monday afternoon (early Tuesday dawn, Manila time) to discuss efforts to further strengthen economic and political ties as well as keep the peace in the Indo-Pacific region.
The dialog with Biden, which happened a day after Mr. Marcos arrived in Washington, is also set to cover possible changes to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the two longstanding allies.
It will followed by an expanded meeting with key Cabinet officials.
This is the second meeting for the two leaders after they attended the UN General Assembly in New York in September last year.
Mr. Marcos will also meet with members of the Filipino community in Washington D.C.
In an interview with the media en route to Washington, the President said agriculture, power, infrastructure “and all these new technologies” are on top of his agenda during his five-day working visit.
“That’s on the economic level… On the political level, it will still be centered around the relationship between the Philippines and the United States,” Mr. Marcos said.
The President also talked about maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific region amid global tensions as well as enhancing the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the global dialogue.
The chief executive is also expected to sit down with legislators, major US companies and business groups during his trip.
In his interview with the Philippine media delegation, Mr. Marcos said the country continuously “works for peace” and that the Philippines will not be used as a “staging post” for any military action amid rising tensions in the region.
“Our goal in the Philippines is simple, we work for peace… We’ll not encourage any provocative action by any country… We will not allow that to happen,” the President said when asked how he sees the Philippines’ role in the Indo-Pacific.
“All we are worried about is the peace and the safety of our people, here and abroad. And that’s the main consideration. So in my view, that’s the role,” he said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also plays a crucial role in “keeping peace” and “lowering tensions in our area,” he added.
“And I think the best move for us is to stay within ASEAN, keep ASEAN solid, strong, and united,” Mr. Marcos said.
The President’s assurances came after watching live-fire sea drills in the biggest Balikatan joint military exercises involving American, Filipino and Australian troops.
Manila recently granted Washington access to more Filipino military bases as the allies seek to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region and its sweeping claims over disputed waters, islands and shoals in the South China Sea.
Mr. Marcos’ visit comes after the United States called on China to stop “provocative and unsafe conduct” in the contested South China Sea following a near-collision with a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.
“We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Saturday, adding that any attack on Philippine armed forces would trigger a US response. Manila and Washington are bound by a 1951 mutual defense pact.
The April 23 incident was “a near-crash and that … can cause casualties on both sides,” Marcos said on the flight to Washington DC.
“That’s exactly what we want to avoid.”
Mr. Marcos urged China to follow through on his agreement with President Xi Jinping, reached earlier this year in Beijing, to set up a “direct communication mechanism” on issues involving overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
While Manila has formed its team, Beijing has yet to do the same, Marcos said.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring an international court ruling in favor of the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China.
Marcos has said he will not let China trample on the Philippines’ rights in the sea, and has gravitated towards the United States as he seeks to strengthen defense ties.
Last month, the Philippines identified four military bases – in addition to five existing sites — to which US forces will have access, including one near the disputed Spratly Islands and two facing Taiwan.
Speaker Martin G. Romualdez on Monday said the House of Representatives fully supports the initiative of the President. to push for the preservation of peace in the Indo-Pacific region as one of the key discussion points in his meeting with US President Joe Biden.
Romualdez was among the Filipino officials who welcomed President Marcos on his arrival in the United States at Joint Base Andrews airport in Maryland.
“Geopolitical tensions and apprehensions of possible hostilities in the region will have an adverse effect on our aspirations for sustained economic growth and prosperity. It is to everyone’s benefit to ensure that conflicts are resolved through diplomatic and peaceful means,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez flew to the US in mid-April to lay the groundwork for Mr. Marcos’s visit by meeting with key US lawmakers to discuss further strengthening the security alliance and economic partnership between the two countries.
Also on Monday, Senator Francis Tolentino called for a clearer definition of the Philippine territory under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.
He suggested that when the President meets with US President Joe Biden, they consider the inclusion of territories where the Philippines exercises sovereign rights.
The senator also proposed a new provision that says “any attack on a place where it exercises sovereign rights (for both parties) would trigger the MDT.” With AFP, Maricel V. Cruz and Macon Ramos-Araneta
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