Philippine, Indonesian Leaders to Discuss Territorial Spats

By Associated Press 9 February 2015

MANILA — The Philippines will raise its concerns over China’s land reclamation in disputed reefs and discuss Manila’s new peace deal with Muslim rebels with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who arrived Sunday for a brief visit, an official said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said President Benigno Aquino will discuss with Jokowi how their Southeast Asian nations can strengthen defense and maritime cooperation and bolster trade and investment.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines’ concern over China’s land reclamation in disputed reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea will be raised in the talks with Jokowi.

The two nations are among the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has been helping resolve the long-unresolved territorial rifts involving China, Taiwan and four Asean member states—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Last month, del Rosario urged fellow ASEAN foreign ministers to seek international support and demand that China immediately stop the land reclamation, warning the regional bloc’s credibility may be undermined if it remains silent on the issue.

Del Rosario told the ministers that China’s massive reclamations could threaten freedom of navigation and the vast offshore region’s biodiversity.

The Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia have protested the reclamation, worried that China can transform the emerging islands into offshore military bases to reinforce Beijing’s vast territorial claims, according to Philippine officials.

Indonesia and China have no formal dispute, though in 2010, Indonesia’s navy came close to a shooting encounter with Chinese vessels that had entered waters off Jakarta’s Natuna island gas field near the sea. Indonesian officials said the incident was an intrusion by fishermen and not part of a territorial dispute.

Indonesia’s support to the Philippine government’s peace talks with Muslim rebels in the south will also be tackled in talks with Jokowi, del Rosario said.

The Philippines signed with the largest Muslim rebel group a new autonomy deal for minority Muslims in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation. The deal came under fire when some of the Muslim rebel group’s fighters were implicated in a Jan. 25 clash that left 44 Filipino police commandos dead.