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Sea row tops Duterte agenda

The country’s territorial dispute with China and other security matters will be President Rodrigo Duterte’s top agenda when he meets other world leaders at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-South Korea Commemorative Summit in South Korea next week.

Duterte said the “equilibrium of geopolitics,” including issues such as the tension in the Korean Peninsula and the Spratly Islands, must be discussed during the regional summit, which will be held in Busan from November 25 to 27.

“Security talaga (It’s really about security). And it’s obvious, it is now the equilibrium of geopolitics. You know North Korea then the Spratly Islands. The South Koreans are also against the occupation of the South China (West Philippine) Sea and the claim of China.

This will be taken up because one day, when we decide to really go for it, it will be the Western powers plus Seoul, plus Tokyo, and Australia. Malaysia, I’m not sure of Malaysia if they’ll join the fray,” he told reporters late Tuesday.

“If it is to the interest of the Republic that I will commit to any [agreement], then I will. But if it is not to the interest of the people of the Philippines, I will never commit to anything that would even jeopardize one life,” he added.

The Palace earlier announced that Duterte would probably meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Duterte said the bilateral meeting with South Korea was not part of the agenda, but would be a “pull aside” meeting.

He said it was important for him to constantly build the country’s ties with Korea because “many things are at stake.”

“One is that we are buying arms. Second is that there are many assistance on the way, coming. Third is Seoul is a vital partner,” he explained.

On Tuesday, South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-man noted that the Philippines and South Korea were scheduled to sign several agreements during the bilateral meeting between Duterte and his Korean counterpart.

“After the summit, we are envisioning to have an MoU (memorandum of understanding) signing, regarding the educational cooperation and the social security and also cooperation on fisheries, as well as tourism implementation,” Han said.

He added that the two leaders were expected to discuss ways to increase trade volumes and conclude the free trade agreement between the Philippines and Korea.

“I think we have many potentials to develop our trade and investment. So in the future, we can increase our trade volume up to $200 billion by 2020,” he added.

Defense and logistics cooperation, and efforts to enhance people to people exchange would also be among the topics discussed, he said.

South Korea currently remains the top tourism market for the Philippines with 1.6 million visitors last year.

Han vowed to raise this number up to 2 million visitors before his term as ambassador ends.

The envoy said 450,000 Filipinos visited South Korea last year and an estimated 500,000 were expected to visit this year.

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