Aquino in Malaysia for first state visit

Issues of mutual concern on agenda, but united front against China unlikely

 
Philippine President Benigno Aquino shaking hands with members of the Filipino community before a meeting in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. This is his first visit to Malaysia since becoming president in 2010. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PHILIPPINE President Benigno Aquino arrived here yesterday for a state visit at a time when concern is heightening over China's increased activity in the South China Sea that affects both the Philippines and Malaysia.

A joint press release last week said Mr Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will "exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual concern", but did not spell out if China's assertiveness was on the agenda.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman did not respond to queries from The Straits Times on this visit, which comes ahead of United States President Barack Obama's visit in April. The US and China are in increasing competition for influence in this region.

Analysts, however, say the two leaders will not be able to avoid discussing the South China Sea issue, although they are not likely to present a united front that may annoy China.

Background story

SKIRTING ROUND DISPUTE

Sabah (is) not part of the agenda. There will be lots of topics, bilateral meetings on peace, trade and commerce. But they are offering lots of help, especially for the Bangsamoro.

- Philippine President Benigno Aquino, the last being a reference to the ethnic Muslim Moros in southern Philippines who have been fighting for an independent homeland

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