By Genalyn Kabiling and MB Online
The issue of the South China Sea dispute could be discussed by President Rodrigo Duterte and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen when the president embarks on state trips to Cambodia and Singapore next week.
Foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said Duterte may raise the South China Sea issue to the Cambodian leader “under the ambit of regional defense and security issue,” adding that Duterte is expected to affirm his resolve for a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute.
The past summits of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to reach a consensus on the issue as it was blocked by Cambodia, an ally of China. In July, the Philippines won in its arbitration case against China before the Hague-based arbitral tribunal.
Nonetheless, Jose said the two countries “have been working closely under the framework of ASEAN in trying to resolve the South China Sea issue and ASEAN as we all know, they have come up with a statement during the last ASEAN Summit.”
“And on the part of the Philippines, we are quite happy with the ASEAN statement on this issue.”
Duterte will first visit Cambodia on December 13 to 14 upon the invitation of King Norodom Sihamoni. He will have a royal audience with the king at the Royal Palace, followed by a state banquet.
Duterte Prime Minister Hun Sen are also expected to discuss “issues of mutual concern, including defense and security relations, bilateral trade, protection of Filipino–Cambodian migrant workers, and cultural and tourism cooperation, among other things,” Jose said.
A memorandum of understanding on sports development is also expected to be signed.
“This visit is the best opportunity for the two leaders to build on what they have started and have a thorough discussion on matters that are mutually important to their respective countries,” Jose added, referring to president’s brief meeting with his Cambodian counterpart at the sidelines of a regional summit in Laos.
The visit coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Philippines-Cambodia diplomatic relations in August 1957.
In Singapore, the president will meet with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to discuss ways to increase bilateral trade and investments and strengthen defense and security cooperation, including counter-terrorism and war on drugs.
He will also be feted at the state banquet to hosted by Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
The Philippines and Singapore have enjoyed “close relations” since diplomatic relations were established in 1969. In 2015, Singapore ranked the country’s fourth largest trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to approximately US$8.8 billion.
“The visit underscores the two countries’ commitment to deeper and more meaningful bilateral and regional relations,” Jose said.
In both trips, the president is expected to meet with the more than 5,000 Filipinos living and working in Cambodia, as well as the approximately 180,000 Filipinos living and working in Singapore.
Duterte will also discuss the Philippines’ chairmanship of the ASEAN in 2017 with his Cambodian and Singaporean counterparts.
Tags: ASEAN, Cambodia, China, Duterte Cambodia PM ‘may discuss’ South China Sea dispute, Manila Bulletin, Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore, South China Sea, state visit, territorial dispute, West Philippine Sea