The Philippines wants to strengthen its ties with Canada

The Philippines wants to strengthen its ties with Canada
The Philippines wants to strengthen its ties with Canada

(Ottawa) The Philippines’ foreign affairs secretary aims to strengthen trade and military ties with Canada, saying the two countries can help maintain the post-war order in the Indo-Pacific by maintaining peaceful relations with the United States and China.


Published at 8:55 a.m.

Dylan Robertson

The Canadian Press

“The future of our region should not be determined by great power rivalry,” Enrique Manalo, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary, said in an interview last week.

“The world today is very different from what it was after World War II, when there was a clear distinction between West and East. Today we have a much more competitive world – and our relationships are more complex. »

Mr. Manalo traveled to Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa this month to mark 75 years of bilateral relations, meeting with federal ministers responsible for trade, immigration, aid and diplomacy.

Its goal is to maintain the momentum that followed the Liberals’ publication of their Indo-Pacific strategy at the end of 2022.

“Our relationship has really grown over the last two years, compared to what it was, say, five or 10 years ago,” Mr. Manalo said.

Tensions with China

His visit came amid heightened tensions between the Philippines and China over maritime borders.

An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s claims to much of the South China Sea lacked legal basis, a conclusion disputed by the Chinese government.

The Philippines views this decision as essential to maintaining its sovereignty and ensuring income for fishermen, Manalo said.

Vina Nadjibulla, vice-president of research at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, explained that the Philippines has a policy of publicly denouncing any incident in which it believes China is violating its territory, unlike some other Asian countries which tend to be silent.

Last week, the Philippines’ national security adviser called for the expulsion of Chinese diplomats over the apparent leak of a phone call between military officials from the two countries.

And earlier, in March, Chinese coast guard ships hit a Philippine supply boat with water cannons near a disputed shoal, which Manila said injured its sailors and a wooden ship .

The United States immediately denounced Beijing for the confrontation, and Canada also reprimanded China for its disturbances in the South China Sea.

Maintain contacts

Mr. Manalo nevertheless believes that the best way to manage relations with Beijing is to maintain frequent contacts with Chinese officials, something to which the Philippines is committed, according to him, despite recent tensions.

“It is important to find ways and means to discuss these differences. And China always says it, so we have the same point of view,” he said.

He recalled that China is his country’s largest trading partner, with trade dating back a millennium.

The Philippines does not view China as an enemy, but rather as a country that is not living up to what it agreed to in the 1994 global treaty governing ocean activities, known as UNCLOS.

“It really comes down to respect for international law (and) the rules-based order. »

Secretary Manalo says it is crucial that Washington and Beijing see each other as partners with smaller countries, whose actions are neither “related to their rivalry” nor intended to “support one of the powers or one against the other “.

It’s a message that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly could convey to China if she visits the country, he suggested.

Last month, Ottawa sent Global Affairs Canada’s top official to China. Such trips are sometimes organized before visits by the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs. There is no confirmation that such a trip is in the works.

A relationship to deepen

Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy focuses on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc of ten countries experiencing strong economic growth. Mr. Manalo said his ASEAN compatriots generally do not want to side with Washington or Beijing.

Canada and the Philippines are “natural partners,” who should work more together in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure, education and renewable energy, Manalo said.

Vina Nadjibulla clarified that the Philippines is “at the heart” of Canada’s regional strategy and constitutes “an anchor state” for Southeast Asia.

“If we want to deepen our economic and strategic relations with the region, the Philippines is where we are most likely to achieve this,” she said.

In January, Ottawa and Manila signed a defense agreement on military training exchanges and disaster response.

A few months earlier, Canada agreed to help with “dark vessel detection,” or using technology to spot illegal fishing from boats that have turned off their transmitters.

Mme Nadjibulla said it was “very important” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau solidifies relations by attending the annual ASEAN summit in Laos next October, after taking part in meetings for the past two years.

She said Canada should consider joining Japan, Australia and the United States in regional joint military exercises to deter Beijing from violating international treaties.

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