MANILA/JAKARTA: The Philippines and Indonesia agreed on Monday to boost defense ties as their leaders concurred that the Southeast Asian bloc, which both countries belong to, must lead the way amid a “volatile” geopolitical situation.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is on his first overseas trip since taking office in June, during which he will also visit Singapore. Marcos and his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo witnessed the signing of several agreements during the meeting on Monday, including a five-year plan of action covering various areas between their two countries.
The Philippines and Indonesia also agreed to strengthen their defense ties with an agreement that seeks to enhance bilateral collaboration and promote cooperative activities, as Marcos and Widodo touched on the important role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the region.
“We also spoke at length about the role that we believe ASEAN should play while we face the difficulties in this very volatile time in geopolitics not only in our region but also in the rest of the world,” Marcos said during a joint press briefing at the Presidential Palace in Bogor, West Java.
“We agreed that ASEAN is going to be the lead agent in the changes that we would like to see in continuing to bring peace to our countries.”
The Philippines and Indonesia, along with Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, are founding members of the regional bloc, which today has 10 members. Next year, Jakarta will hold the rotating ASEAN chairmanship.
“Indonesia wants to ensure that ASEAN will continue to become a locomotive for stability, peace, and prosperity in the region,” Widodo said.
The Indonesian leader stressed the importance of ASEAN centrality and unity during his meeting with Marcos, and said the bloc “must be able to handle various challenges in the future.”
Victor Andres Manhit, president of the Manila-based think tank ADR Institute, said stronger Indonesian-Philippine relations within the context of ASEAN is important to address regional maritime issues.
“What is important is that, as key members and founding members of ASEAN, both (countries) value rules-based international order,” Manhit told Arab News.
“As we have cooperation and as we have mutual respect, maybe it can evolve into stronger ties among maritime nations of ASEAN,” he added.
“But from (the) point of view of an aggressive northern neighbor, it’s good to have stronger ties among ASEAN maritime nations to distinguish us from (the rest) of the ASEAN.”
Manhit was referring to China, with whom the Philippines has a long-running dispute over the South China Sea, a strategic and resource-rich waterway claimed by Beijing almost in its entirety. But other countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, also have overlapping claims.
The Indo-Pacific region was in the spotlight amid rising tensions between the US and China, which was triggered by a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan last month.
But it will likely prove a challenge for ASEAN to serve as a regional leader to achieve stability for the region, according to Indonesian defense expert Connie Rahakundini Bakrie.
Instead of relying on ASEAN, Bakrie called on Indonesia to focus on promoting the non-aligned movement, referring to the forum of 120 countries which are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.
“Strengthening ASEAN is a good idea, but will it be easy? Because I think ASEAN is now divided,” she said.