MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – US President Barack Obama arrived in Manila for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit on Tuesday, November 17 – his second visit to the Philippines, the US’ strongest ally in the region.
Fresh off the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Air Force One touched down at 11:20 am.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr, and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg led the welcoming party at Villamor Air Base.
He was then whisked off to the Sofitel Hotel in Manila via Marine One, the presidential chopper.
Obama later visited a US-built warship of the Philippine Navy in Manila, where he vowed America’s “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines.
On Wednesday, November 18, Obama is scheduled to speak at the APEC CEO Summit. He will join the leaders of the other APEC member economies at the welcome reception and dinner that day, hosted by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
On Thursday, November 19, he will join the APEC Leaders’ Retreat.
Aside from official APEC events, Obama is also set to visit the US-made BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippine Navy’s flagship vessel, as he seeks to highlight US commitment to regional maritime security, as a “showcase” of US-Philippine maritime cooperation. The visit is expected to be made at the South Harbor in Manila.
Obama’s move risks irking China, which is embroiled in a bitter territorial row over parts of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) with the Philippines and some of its other Asian neighbors. It will also take place just weeks after Beijing denounced the sail-by of a US Navy ship near artificial islands it is building in disputed waters.
Obama arrives in the Philippines with the world’s focus on the terrorist attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) group, and soul searching on how to counter it in Syria and Iraq.
Prior to the Paris attacks, National Security Advisor Susan Rice previewed Obama’s trip as an opportunity to herald a vast trans-Pacific trade deal and efforts to promote a “rules-based order” amid tensions in the South China Sea.
But Obama has spent the last few days talking about Syria, Iraq, and ISIS, and is expected to likely do so again with Asian leaders.
Events in Europe and the Middle East, however, are not the only issues on Obama’s mind as he arrives in Manila.
The White House faces an uphill battle in securing Congress approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal, which would spur trade between 12 Pacific rim nations representing 40% of the world’s economy.
On the sidelines of the APEC Summit, Obama and 11 other world leaders are expected to meet to discuss the TPP.
The US president’s 3-day visit is the second stop in his Asian trip. After Manila, he will proceed to Kuala Lumpur on Friday, November 20, to attend the 27th ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit. He is scheduled to fly back to the US on Sunday, November 22.
Obama first visited the Philippines in April 2014, a two-day state visit to further strengthen ties with the US’ oldest alliance in Asia.
At the end of his state visit last year, the US leader reaffirmed the US’ “ironclad” commitment to help defend the Philippines against external attacks – a pronouncement made against the backdrop of rising tensions between the Philippines and China over disputes in the West Philippine Sea. – With reports from Agence France-Presse and Paterno Esmaquel II / Rappler.com