Philippines, Malaysia to ink health accord

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad attend the welcoming ceremony for the Malaysian leader at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad attend the welcoming ceremony for the Malaysian leader at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila

Mahathir stressed in an interview with ABS-CBN network in Manila on Thursday the importance of freedom of navigation in the busy sea lanes, saying if there were no restrictions "the claims made by China will not affect us very much".

The two leaders also discussed China's continuing militarization of the South China Sea, the disputed region that is also claimed by Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, as well as by Beijing's rival, Taiwan. The Philippines has declared a moratorium on exploration in the area in the past because of Chinese threats to block any such exploration.

"I have personally seen significant headways that spurred and sustained economic communities in the BIMP-EAGA sub-region through which active socio-cultural and economic interchange across borders and enhanced cooperation between customs, immigration, quarantine and security matters", Duterte said.

There has been weeks of relative quiet in the South China Sea, which towards the end of previous year saw steadily increasing tensions as U.S. naval ships and planes passed near Chinese military assets with increased frequency.

The divide within the administration of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is reflective of an increasing ambivalence in Manila regarding its relationship with Washington.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is greeted on his arrival at Bulwagang Kalayaan in the Philippines yesterday.

"We are very gratified to be congratulating you on the peace that has been achieved in Southern Philippines", the visiting Malaysian leader said at the start of the expanded bilateral meeting at the Palace.

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The last reported B-52 mission around the South China Sea took place in November. He held talks with Duterte and addressed a business forum after the television interview.

Duterte said both countries also reaffirmed commitment to collaborate in regional and multilateral platforms, particularly within ASEAN to advance the rule of law in Southeast Asia.

"It's a hazard to trade flows, the commercial activity, the financial information that flows on cables under the South China Sea, writ large,"he added".

With enormous economic opportunities opening up in the former battlefields, Mahathir said Malaysia is looking forward to investing in the region and pledged that his country will continue to back Philippine peace efforts. The region was created five years after a peace deal - brokered partly by Malaysia - ended the separatist rebellion of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Officials were trying to arrange a meeting between Mahathir and Murad.

In the new region, courts of Islamic law will be established, and the Philippines' central government will transfer its administrative authority in Mindanao to the Bangsamoro government.

Together with Indonesia, he said, Malaysia and the Philippines had agreed to "undertake unilateral maritime and air patrols to tackle the growing security challenges".

"Malaysia is committed to take the necessary steps to address the serious issue of terrorism and violent extremism" through the accord, Mahathir said.

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