Duterte, PM agree on South China Sea

Duterte, PM agree on South China Sea

Leaders put focus on freedom of navigation

Thailand and the Philippines have agreed to emphasise freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea as a core value in securing peace and prosperity in the region.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shared the same stance on the maritime territorial disputes in the area during a joint press conference at Government House Tuesday.

They also agreed to push for the completion of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

"Maintaining peace, stability and security as well as respecting freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea are in the interests of all countries, within and outside the region, as they are fundamental conditions for growth, development and prosperity," Mr Duterte said.

The two leaders stressed the need for full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety and expressed their shared determination to complete a framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the area within this year.

"The Philippines had reaffirmed its commitment to continue working with Thailand and all parties concerned in enhancing maritime cooperation and preserving peace and stability in the South China Sea," Mr Duterte said, adding that he was grateful for Thailand's support.

Meanwhile, Gen Prayut said Thailand believes the ultimate goal should be for the South China Sea to be the "sea of peace, stability and sustainable development" in order to benefit the region and its people.

Before his trip to Myanmar and Thailand, Mr Duterte said in Manila on Sunday his country was militarily inferior to China and therefore could not stop its actions in contested waters. Beijing reportedly plans to construct an environmental monitoring station in a shoal claimed by Manila off the northwestern Philippines.

While Gen Prayut put defence and military cooperation with the Philippines at the top of his agenda Tuesday, three memorandums of understanding were signed between the two countries' state agencies, including bilateral cooperation on science and technology, tourism, and cooperation in dairy products.

According to the Thai leader, the first meeting of the Joint Committee on Military Cooperation is expected to be held this year, possibly next month on the sidelines of the upcoming Asean Defence Senior Officials Meeting in the Philippines.

Other areas of bilateral cooperation discussed by Gen Prayut and Mr Duterte included cooperation between intelligence agencies to deal with the alarming growth of transnational crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, piracy, cyber security and trade.

Bangkok and Manila also agreed to adopt more "proactive" roles in the Joint Trade Committee (JTC) to boost their trade volume.

The first JTC will be hosted by the Philippines this year, Gen Prayut said.

"Starting from Dec 31 this year to Dec 31 2018, the Philippines has agreed to procure Thai white rice," Gen Prayut said without giving specific amounts.

Trade volume between the two nations from January to November last year reached US$8.3 billion (289 billion baht), up 9.22% from 2015.

The Philippines is the fifth-largest trading partner of Thailand within Asean.

Other areas of interest included investment in Special Economic Zones (SEZs), the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) of Thailand and the Philippine Economic Zone (PEZ).

"Thailand and the Philippines have the synergy to further deepen and expand their cooperation in areas of mutual interest and to work together to strengthen the Asean community as well as to cooperate on matters of mutual interest at both the regional and international level," Gen Prayut said.

The two leaders also found time to update one another on their respective political developments during the bilateral talks, he added.

"I informed President Duterte on the progress of Thailand's implementation of national reform for stability, prosperity and sustainability under the 20-year National Strategy Plan and Thailand 4.0 policy, while the president briefed me on his country's development Plan 2017-2022," he said.

Gen Prayut described the more than six decades of diplomatic relations between the two nations as "excellent".

During his three-day visit to Bangkok, Mr Duterte was to catch up with local Filipino communities Wednesday evening.

There are approximately 16,000 Filipinos living in Thailand.

He is to leave for home later Wednesday.

Before arriving in Bangkok, Mr Duterte spent two days in Myanmar's capital, Nay Pyi Taw, from March 19-20 at the invitation of President Htin Kyaw.

He met State Counselor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday and discussed the issue of Myanmar's conflict-riddled Rakhine State.

Mr Duterte presented a donation of US$300,000 (10.4 million baht) to Ms Suu Kyi on behalf of his government for communities affected by the conflict, according to a statement issued by Ms Suu Kyi's office.

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