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Philippines, US foreign affairs, defense secretaries to meet in Washington

The secretaries of foreign affairs and defense of the Philippines and the United States will hold a high-level meeting in Washington in April to boost their political and military engagement in the face of China’s position in the South China Sea.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and Defense officer in charge Carlito Galvez will meet US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for the 2 + 2 ministerial meeting.

Romualdez said the two sides would discuss a range of bilateral issues including defense and security cooperation and significant developments in the economic engagement of the two countries.

“The 2+2 is scheduled sometime in the middle of April,” Romualdez said at the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) Prospects forum in Makati City.

Romualdez said the revival of “this important mechanism” would discuss the current state of the two allies’ bilateral relationship and chart the course of its ties “through the enhancement of existing areas of cooperation and the identification of new opportunities.”

“We are now fixing the date. In those meetings we expect to have a very strong indication of how we will proceed with all these agreements and all of these things that have happened in the past couple of months,” he said.

Romualdez said the agenda would cover regional and global issues that impact both countries.

It is likely to include the recent developments in the South China Sea, where a series of Chinese harassment of Philippine Coast Guard crew and fishermen have been reported.

Manila this month denounced the Chinese Coast Guard’s pointing of a military-grade laser at a passing Philippine supply vessel near Ayungin Soal on Feb. 6.

The incident off Ayungin caused temporary blindness to some of the Filipino Coast Guard crew and prompted Manila to file a strongly worded protest.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also summoned China’s ambassador to personally convey the government’s displeasure over the incident.

Washington called China’s actions “dangerous” and a “threat to regional peace and security” as it renewed its commitment to defend the Philippines against aggression in the South China Sea.

A month after that incident, dozens of Chinese civilian vessels and at least one Navy ship were also spotted swarming the Philippine-claimed Pag-Asa island early this month. 

The US and the Philippines, Washington’s longest treaty ally in Asia, last month formally announced plans to expand America’s military presence in the country with access to four additional bases as they seek to deter China’s increasingly hostile actions in the South China Sea and Taiwan.

Called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, Romualdez stressed that the pact, which provides greater US access to Philippine bases and deployment of rotating American troops, is “a key pillar” of Manila and Washington’s defense and military cooperation.

“This is all part of our plan to be able to have a posture where we will be able to defend ourselves in the future,” said Romualdez, adding EDCA is part of a deterrence strategy by the Philippines “to stop any kind of aggression in this part of the world.” —NB, GMA Integrated News