Key Philippine diplomatic initiatives were advanced by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. at the Asia Pacific Economic cooperation (APEC) economic leaders’ meeting in Bangkok.
At his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he emphasized the importance of concluding the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Both leaders reaffirmed support for the early conclusion of an agreement that would manage tensions in the region. Although there was no elaboration on the extent of both leaders’ discussions on the long-standing maritime dispute, there was clear agreement that “maritime issues do not define the totality of Philippines-China relations.”
China’s statement on the meeting highlighted that the two countries “should work together to reject unilateralism and acts of bullying, defend fairness and justice, and safeguard peace and stability in the region.” President Xi cited China’s involvement in Philippine infrastructure projects, thanking President Marcos for attending the recent ground-breaking ceremony of the Davao-Samal bridge project.
Another concrete gain was Saudi Arabia’s commitment to pay some ₱30 billion in backwages to more than 10,000 Filipino workers adversely affected by the closure of construction firms due to bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016. According to Secretary Susan Ople, this was conveyed to President Marcos by Saudi Arabia crown prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in their talks at the sidelines of the Bangkok summit. She disclosed that this was a personal project of the Saudi prince who intended this to be a gift for the displaced workers.
At the APEC CEO Summit, President Marcos called for structural changes to address the imbalance and inequity brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. He pointed out that the APEC countries’ distinct advantage is their ability to achieve a balance between competition and cooperation. Such recovery would have to include micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) that were severely displaced by the pandemic. He said that these need assistance in their efforts to be mainstreamed into the emergent digital economy.
Specifically, he called attention to apparent discrimination against MSMEs, considering the high shipping and logistics costs that affect the flow of raw materials and goods into and coming from the Asia Pacific region. He also focused on the essential role of the maritime industry in ensuring robust and resilient global supply chains and post-pandemic recovery, highlighting the critical role of Filipino deck officers and crew members in transport and logistics.
To ensure inclusive and sustainable growth amid an apparent downturn of the world economy and risks of recessions, he also asked his counterparts in APEC to work together towards achieving economic and social stability. This is aligned with the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 that seeks an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040.
Finally, President Marcos also secured a commitment from the CP Group, Thailand’s largest private company with a $2-billion investment in the Philippines, that it would scale up its investments, particularly in swine, rice, corn and aquaculture.
Welcome home, Mr. President, from your auspicious first APEC leaders’ meeting!
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