The Philippines and Malaysia have agreed to use “a new level of approach” on the West Philippine Sea issue through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to achieve an amicable resolution, both countries’ leaders said in a joint statement Wednesday.
This means taking a position “at a multilateral level between ASEAN” that would “lead to an amicable resolution to this outstanding problem,” visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said following his bilateral meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacañang.
Both the Philippines and Malaysia are claimants to contested territories in the South China Sea, which is being claimed in its entirety by China.
Aside from discussing the disputed waterway, Anwar said he and Mr. Marcos also tackled the two countries’ defense and security ties, which he said remain strong and growing.
The President and Malaysian premier agreed to boost security, trade, and investment exchanges in a historic bilateral meeting, as PM Anwar was the first foreign head of government to visit Manila under the Marcos administration.
“Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim and I had a cordial and productive discussion on Philippines-Malaysia bilateral cooperation, reaffirming our two countries’ desire to revitalize relations as we traverse past the pandemic then through the years towards a new normal,” the President said in a statement.
“Your visit is a testament to our enduring friendship as ASEAN brothers, who share the same vision of prosperity and of peace,” he added.
Mr. Marcos congratulated Anwar, who then was newly sworn in as PM, in a telephone call last November and expressed hopes to work with the Malaysian leader, particularly as ASEAN tackles various challenges.
Anwar for his part said: “We did discuss the South China Sea issue and I shared President Marcos Jr.’s concern that due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, we should try and engage and take the position at a multilateral level between ASEAN so that we have a comprehensive approach and achieve an amicable resolution to this outstanding problem.”
With the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and geopolitical upheavals challenging both their countries’ economies and the prospects of a global recovery, the two leaders agreed to “reinvigorate trade and investment exchanges, with a special focus on the halal industry, agriculture, and food security, and the digital economy.”
Mr. Marcos said the two countries, as immediate neighbors, recognize the importance of maintaining peace and security in the region.
“As such, we agreed to continue our cooperation on political and security matters, rekindling the Joint Commission Meetings and joint initiatives to combat transnational crime and terrorism,” the President said.
With the porous common borders they share, PM Anwar said strong collaboration is needed, which must be enhanced further.
Mr. Marcos said the Philippines and Malaysia, as founding members of the ASEAN and the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), have ASEAN Centrality embedded in their regional outlook.
“We have thus resolved to support the development and peace-building initiatives within this group, including the importance of achieving a resolution to the situation in Myanmar,” the President said.
The Malaysian leader also mentioned the plight of Filipinos facing legal woes in Malaysia, saying he asked the Philippine side during the meeting with the President to collaborate with Kuala Lumpur for their repatriation.
“I have asked the Philippines’ assistance and cooperation to expedite the commutation of nationals so that they can be repatriated to the Philippines in a timely manner. And I am pleased that — their willingness to facilitate this arrangement in a mutually agreed fashion,” PM Anwar said.
He also reiterated Malaysia’s commitment to BIMP-EAGA, including hosting the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines Facilitation Center.
The President mentioned in his statement that the two countries shared deep, historic roots and that the Philippines and Malaysia’s cultures enjoy natural affinity.
“As such, we spoke of further deepening our people-to-people ties through continued cultural exchanges and tourism,” Mr. Marcos said, adding that he acknowledged the role of the Filipino diaspora in Malaysia and their contribution to both our economies.
The President said they commended the progress made towards achieving sustainable and inclusive peace in Mindanao, noting it is “the culmination of years of effort and sincerity among all parties, which will soon realize the dividends of peace.”
“We have recognized the great contribution that Malaysia has made to the peace process in the southern Philippines. And we hope that this support that they have shown over the past few years will continue and will continue to contribute to the success of the peace process and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” the President said.
PM Anwar also assured Mr. Marcos that the new administration in Malaysia will be more than happy to further enhance collaboration through multidimensional bilateral cooperation and vibrant people-to-people interaction.
“Our bilateral cooperation is multisectoral covering trade and investment, education, health, agriculture, health, tourism, and culture,” Anwar said, adding the first generation of Malaysian professionals benefitted immensely from the work at Los Baños in Laguna and some of the known centers of learning in the Philippines.