MANILA - President Ferdinand Marcos Jr of the Philippines, one of the claimant states in the South China Sea, will raise the maritime dispute with the leaders of Indonesia and Singapore during his inaugural state visits next week.
Mr Marcos will be visiting Indonesia from Sunday to next Tuesday, before heading to Singapore from next Tuesday to Wednesday.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Tess Daza said on Friday that the South China Sea issue will be one of the key regional concerns that Mr Marcos will be discussing with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, as well as Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Ms Daza said the talks would be “cognizant that all three countries actually have the common goal to maintain peace and stability” in the region.
The Philippines and Indonesia are among the claimants challenging Beijing’s claim of almost the entire South China Sea. The other claimants are Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The state visits are expected to provide clues on how Mr Marcos plans to navigate rising tensions between China and the United States - two superpowers now seeking stronger ties with the Philippines.
The US has been regularly sailing naval ships into the South China Sea, and also through the Taiwan Strait, on what it calls freedom of navigation missions that always anger China.
In 2016, Manila scored a historic court victory over Beijing when a Hague tribunal struck down its sweeping claims over the South China Sea. Among other things, the tribunal ruled that China’s argument of historic rights to the sea was invalid under international law. It also ruled that the West Philippine Sea belongs to Manila, not Beijing.
China, however, does not recognise this ruling.
Mr Marcos and his family have close ties with Beijing, but he has also said he plans to stand up to any Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea.
The President’s other priorities during his state visits include defence and investment.
In Indonesia, Mr Marcos plans to discuss with Mr Widodo their countries’ “multi-faceted cooperation” in defence, maritime, border, economic and people-to-people cooperation.
Both sides will sign key agreements on defence and culture and finalise a plan of action charting the bilateral priorities in the next five years.
Mr Marcos will also raise the case of Filipina death row inmate Mary Jane Veloso with Mr Widodo, said Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.
Veloso is a former domestic worker charged with drug trafficking in Indonesia. But she maintains that her recruiters had tricked her by planting the drugs in the seams of her suitcase.
She was supposed to be executed by a firing squad in April 2015. But Mr Widodo spared her life at the 11th hour following the arrest of her recruiters in the Philippines and an appeal from the late president Benigno Aquino III.
In Singapore, Mr Marcos will meet President Halimah and PM Lee to discuss key regional and global issues. The two countries will also sign key agreements involving counter-terrorism and data privacy issues.
In addition, Mr Marcos plans to meet business leaders in Indonesia and Singapore to attract more investment to the Philippines.
Singapore is the Philippines’ top trading partner in Asean, with total trade hitting US$11.14 billion (S$15.6 billion) last year. Indonesia also considers the Philippines as a key hub for investments, with total bilateral trade valued at US$9.5 billion last year.
Mr Marcos will also meet Filipino communities in both nations to give them the assurance of the Philippine government’s commitment to protect the rights of its citizens overseas.