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US VP Kamala Harris visits the Philippines, in a bid to strengthen ties

Deutsche Welle 11/20/2022 Deutsche Welle
The visit by Harris will be the highest-level trip to the Philippines by an US administration official © Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times/AP/picture alliance The visit by Harris will be the highest-level trip to the Philippines by an US administration official

Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the US and the Philippines are hoping to rekindle their age-old alliance. Harris has planned a highly symbolic visit to the Palawan province facing the disputed South China Sea.US Vice President Kamala Harris heads to the Philippines on Sunday for a visit aimed at countering China's growing power in South East Asia.

Harris was set to meet President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday to shore up relations with the US's oldest Asian ally, a senior US administration official said.

She was also scheduled to pay a highly symbolic visit on Tuesday to the Palawan province facing the disputed South China Sea.

She would be the highest-ranking US leader to visit the frontier island at the forefront of the long-seething territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

According to a US official, Harris would board one of the biggest patrol ships in the Philippine coast guard in Palawan to speak about the importance of international law, unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Philippine Ambassador to the US, Jose Manuel Romualdez said Harris's trip to Palawan shows the level of the US support to an ally and concern over China's actions in the disputed sea.

"That's as obvious as you can get, that the message they're trying to impart to the Chinese is that 'we support our allies like the Philippines on these disputed islands'," Romualdez said.

On Sunday when asked about an earlier brief encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit Harris said, "we do not seek conflict and confrontation but we welcome competition."

US rebuilding ties with the Philippines

Harris and Marcos are expected to discuss the tensions in the South China Sea and Taiwan and share notes on their separate meetings with Xi.

During a meeting on Thursday with Marcos, Xi stood firm, "on the South China Sea, the two sides must stick to friendly consultations and handle differences and disputes properly.''

Marcos' office later added their maritime issues "do not define the totality of Philippines-China relations.''

"Our foreign policy refuses to fall into the trap of a Cold War mindset," Marcos said. "Ours is an independent foreign policy guided by our national interest and commitment to peace.''

But in Marcos, the US is hoping to secure a strong ally to counter China's power in the region.

"It makes sense to invest high-level attention to restore deepened cooperation across the board with this youthful, populous, prospering, and strategically located ally," said Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia under former US President Barack Obama and now with the Asia Society.

Focus on US Philipines military cooperation

Of the five US treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Thailand, the Philippines is closest to Taiwan, its northernmost land mass of Luzon just 200 km (120 miles) away.

Under Marcos, who was sworn in as president in June, the Philippines and the US moved ahead with an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

It dates back to Obama's presidency but declined under Marcos' predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to sever ties with Washington and expel visiting American forces.

The agreement allows temporary visits by American forces with their aircraft and Navy ships for joint military exercises, combat training, and bracing to respond to natural disasters.

Crucially it allows the US military to build warehouses and temporary living quarters within Philippine military camps.

Philippine military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro said last week that the US wanted to construct military facilities in five more areas in the northern Philippines.

Gregory Poling at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies said Harris's trip could bring an announcement of such a deal.

Harris to raise human rights

After her meeting Monday with Marcos, Harris plans to meet civil society activists to demonstrate US commitment and continued support for human rights and democratic resilience, the US official said.

Harris is expected to raise the issue with the Philippine president.

Marcos has steadfastly defended the legacy of his father, a dictator who was ousted in a 1986 pro-democracy uprising amid human rights atrocities and plunder.

Harris would also discuss the issue with Vice President Sara Duterte, daughter of Marcos' predecessor, who oversaw a deadly anti-drugs crackdown that sparked an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity.

lo/jcg (AP, Reuters)

Copyright 2022 DW.COM, Deutsche Welle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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