President Duterte, Malaysian PM Mahathir back freedom of navigation, overflight in South China Sea

Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte (R) listens as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during their joint statements at the Malacanang Palace in Manila on March 7, 2019. – Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on March 7 warned the Philippines against letting in foreigners who could “disturb” the country’s domestic political stability, as President Rodrigo Duterte’s Beijing pivot sparks an influx of Chinese workers. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP)


(Eagle News) — Both Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and President Duterte, the two oldest heads of state in Asia, called for maintaining freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea, as well as the peaceful settlement of disputes in the region.

During their joint statement Thursday, March 7, after their closed door bilateral meeting, President Duterte said he and Mahathir agreed on the importance of “freedom of navigation and overflight” in the South China Sea.

He said that this is part of their “commitment to collaborate in regional and multilateral platforms particularly with ASEAN, to advance the rule of law in Southeast Asia and beyond.”

”We emphasized the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight over the South China Sea,” Duterte said of his talk with the 93-year old leader.

“This is without resort to the threat of use of force in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law,” he added.

Mahathir, in his speech, said that he had a very productive talk with Duterte where they discussed a “wide range of issues on bilateral relations between Malaysia and the Philippines as well as regional and international issues of mutual concern.”

“We have very strong and close ties within our two countries at every level. I fully support the theme ‘Partners for Progress, Brothers for Peace’ for this visit.

Other issues discussed during the bilateral meeting were on economic, security and health cooperation, and continued efforts to fight crime, terrorism, piracy and the illegal drug trade.

The two leaders also discussed about the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim MIndanao (BARMM) and peace and security in the southern part of the Philippines.

Mahathir pledged his continued support for the economic development of Mindanao.

-Two oldest heads of state in Asia-

The 93-year old Mahathir and the 73-year old Duterte are two of the oldest heads of state in Asia.

Mahathir, who won again as Prime Minister in elections in May last year in a dramatic political comeback from his retirement, is the oldest sitting head of state in the world.  He was first sworn in as Prime Minister in 1981 and had since won five consecutive general elections before he stepped down in 2003.

Duterte, on the other hand, is the oldest elected Philippine president whose resounding victory with a huge margin in May 2016 even without a political machinery had surprised many so-called political pundits.  Before this, he had served as mayor of Davao City for seven terms, totalling more than 22 years in office, and was thus considered among the longest-serving mayors in the Philippines.

– Importance of freedom of navigation in region –

The Philippines and Malaysia are among the countries with maritime and island claims in the South China Sea affected by China’s nine-dash line that virtually encompassed the whole maritime area.

There is an estimated US$5 trillion worth of global trade which passes through the South China Sea yearly, which includes more than half the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage and a third of all maritime traffic worldwide.

The United States has also batted for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and maintained that it should remain part of international waters.

The US has been conducting “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea, the most recent of which was in early January this year when a US Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed near the disputed Paracel islands where Beijing had built military installations.

The USS McCampbell sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of the Paracel Islands “to challenge excessive maritime claims” according to the US Pacific Fleet.

(Eagle News Service)