Philippine, Malaysian Leaders Discuss South China Sea, Myanmar
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he discussed the South China dispute with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila on Wednesday, and the two favored a multilateral approach to arriving at a resolution.
Manila and Kuala Lumpur both have overlapping claims with Beijing over the disputed waterway and have had to deal with assertive Chinese incursions in their exclusive economic zones.
“As immediate neighbors, the Philippines and Malaysia recognize the importance of maintaining peace and security in our region,” Marcos said in a statement after an hour-long meeting with Anwar, who was on his first visit to the country as prime minister.
“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,” Marcos said.
Anwar later told reporters that he and Marcos agreed that regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should take center stage in resolving the South China Sea dispute.
“I shared President Marcos’ concern that due to the complexity and sensitivity issue, we should try and engage and take the position at the multilateral level between ASEAN so that we have a comprehensive approach and achieve an amicable resolution to this outstanding problem,” he told reporters.
ASEAN members Brunei and Vietnam also have claims to the waterway that overlap with China. While Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to the dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the sea overlapping Indonesia’s EEZ.
‘200,000 refugees’ in Malaysia
AS ASEAN members, the two leaders also discussed the situation in post-coup Myanmar.
Marcos noted that both countries are founding members and have “ASEAN centrality embedded into our regional outlooks.”
“We have thus resolved to support development and peace building initiatives within this group including the importance of achieving a resolution to the situation on Myanmar,” Marcos said.
Myanmar’s military toppled an elected government on Feb. 1, 2021, jailing opponents and attacking and killing members of opposition groups. The junta has reneged on an ASEAN five-point consensus as a roadmap to return to peace and democracy.
Anwar noted the unrest in Myanmar was adversely affecting his country, “due to the huge number of refugees exceeding 200,000 people now in Malaysia.”
He said the Myanmar issue “cannot be considered as purely internal because it’s affecting the security and welfare of the region.”
Closer to home, Marcos and Anwar noted the peace building efforts in the southern Philippines, where Malaysia played a crucial role in a pact that led to the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“We have recognized the great contribution that Malaysia has made to the peace process in southern Philippines and we hope that this support that they have shown over the past few years will continue … to contribute to the success of the peace process,” Marcos said.
Anwar pledged that his nation will continue to assist the Bangsamoro people through what he called “capacity-building programs.”
Before departing on Thursday, Anwar is scheduled to lay a wreath at the grave of the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, and attend a public lecture at the state-run University of the Philippines.
Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe in Manila and Iman Muttaqin Yusof in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.