Fresh from hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Friday left for Malaysia to attend a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Kuala Lumpur.
In his meeting with his fellow Southeast Asian leaders and other dialogue partners, the President said he plans to bid them farewell and thank them for their support and assistance to the Philippines under his watch.
Aquino is expected to raise a maritime dispute involving Asean member-countries and China in the Kuala Lumpur summit.
The South China Sea–a large part of which includes the West Philippine Sea–is being wholly claimed by China.
Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and the Philippines are among the Asean member-countries with conflicting claims over the vast waters.
The Philippines and Vietnam have sought international arbitration over the dispute.
China refuses to recognize and participate in ongoing proceedings.
The territorial dispute was among the issues discussed by Aquino in bilateral meetings with US President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.
Aquino, who is attending his last Asean summit before his term expires next year, will be talking about the maintenance of peace, stability and security, economic integration and inclusive growth.
In his departure speech, the President cited the formal establishment of the Asean Community, which entails closer integration through three pillars–political security and economic and socio-cultural aspects.
Asean leaders are meeting as tension in the West Philippine Sea rose a notch higher last month after the United States sent its warship to sail close to an artificial island built by China in areas within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
US President Barack Obama, who also left on Friday for Kuala Lumpur to attend the Asean summit as a dialogue partner, had said the US would not take sides in the territorial dispute but vowed to champion freedom of navigation in a waterway where over $5 trillion of global trade transits annually.
President Aquino will have a hectic itinerary in Malaysia, initially attending the 27th Asean plenary meeting on Saturday at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center.
On Saturday afternoon, he will attend the 18th Asean-China summit , followed by the 13th Asean-India summit, the 18th Asean+3 (South Korea, Japan, China) summit, Asean+3 interface with East Asia Business Council and the 3rd Asean-US summit.
The Asean leaders will also hold the 40th anniversary commemorative summit with the leader of New Zealand on Sunday.
Other high-level assemblies scheduled in Kuala Lumpur are the 10th East Asia Summit, 18th Asean-Japan Summit, 7th Asean-Korea Summit and the 7th Asean-United Nations Summit.
Aquino is scheduled to leave Malaysia at 9:15 p.m. on Sunday and will arrive in Manila at 1 p.m. Monday.
Security stepped up
Security has been stepped up for the 27th Asean summit, Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said also on Friday.
“Security at all entry and exit points in Malaysia has been stepped up.
“Furthermore, as announced by Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zain, military personnel will be working with us in a joint operation to ensure maximum security during the Asean Summit and Related Summits,” he said in a statement.
Khalid added that there had been reports of terrorist threats in Malaysia but they are yet to be confirmed.