MANILA, Philippines – As Manila continues to challenge Beijing and defend its claim over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Benigno Aquino III and Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam agreed on further strengthening their defense and security cooperation.
The two leaders, however, did not specifically discuss the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.
On Thursday, April 3, on Tan’s first state visit to the Philippines, Aquino said the two countries discussed further cooperation “which includes high-level training, educational, and intelligence exchanges.”
“The Philippines proposed the holding of a Defense Dialogue in order to further strengthen our cooperation,” Aquino said. “I believe that strengthening defense and security cooperation between the Philippines and Singapore is key to maintaining regional stability.”
He said the Philippines also volunteered to host this year’s Asian Defense and Security exhibition in July. According to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr, however, Tan and Aquino did not discuss the Philippines’ claim over the West Philippine Sea.
On March 30, the Philippines filed a nearly 4,000-page written pleading to end decades of alleged bullying by Beijing. China rejected the memorial, arguing that the arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no right to hear the case.
In his statement, Tan did not specifically mention the defense cooperation between the two nations but he did say they “discussed developments in ASEAN.”
“As founding members of ASEAN, Singapore and the Philippines share a common vision of building a strong, united, and stable ASEAN community. And we will continue to work closely to promote the common interest of our region,” Tan said.
Tan is in the country for a 4-day state visit. He arrived on Wednesday, April 2. His itinerary includes a visit to areas hardest-hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), namely Tacloban in Leyte and Basey in Western Samar. He will turn over medical supplies to the Basey District Hospital, the beneficiary of the joint rehabilitation project between the Singapore Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Aquino said Singapore was “one of the first countries to reach out to the Filipino people” in the wake of the storm.
Aside from security and defense cooperation, Aquino said he also discussed with Tan the revival of the Philippines-Singapore Action Plan “as a mechanism for expanding bilateral discussions between our countries.”
“The Action Plan provides a consolidated framework for strengthening our bilateral cooperation, covering expansive areas including trade and investments, information technology, education, culture, defense, and people-to-people exchanges,” he said.
Aquino also hailed the increasing trade between the two countries, and encouraged Singapore to participate further in the Philippines’ business sector.
He said Singapore and the Philippines will continue to work on the expansion of cooperation in the fields of infrastructure and construction, tourism facilities, information technology-business process management, shipbuilding, logistics services, and agribusiness.
Tan also praised the recent expansion of the countries’ Air Transport Agreement, which will increase the weekly air services capacity between Singapore and Manila by at least 25%.
“Growing air connectivity has been an important catalyst, not only for trade and business, but also tourism between our countries,” he said.
Singapore was the Philippines’ 4th largest trade partner in 2013, with total trade of $8.22 billion. It is also the 6th largest source of visitors to the Philippines, with 175,304 tourist arrivals in 2013.
In addition, Aquino thanked Tan for welcoming the 180,000 Filipinos working in Singapore.
Tan admitted this was a vital part of the two countries’ friendship.
“President Aquino and I agreed that the Philippines-Singapore bilateral ties are extensive and growing from strength to strength. Our bilateral relations are underpinned by strong people to people ties,” he said.
Tan’s delegation is composed of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu, who is also the Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and the Second Minister for Foreign Affairs; Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower; and Members of Parliament Dr Lam Pin Min and Vikram Nair. – Rappler.com