MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. have agreed to adopt a new level of approach to address issues related to the disputed territories in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

Ibrahim said during a bilateral meeting with Marcos at the Malacañang on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, that they had agreed to settle the issue through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in order to achieve an amicable resolution.

Both the Philippines and Malaysia are claimants to the contested territories in the South China Sea.

“We did discuss the South China issue and I shared President Marcos Jr.’s concern that due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, we should try and engage and take the position at a multilateral level between Asean so that we have a comprehensive approach and achieve an amicable resolution to this outstanding problem,” Ibrahim said.

The Malaysian leader said that they also discussed the defense and security ties between the two countries, noting that collaboration is important, especially given their common borders.

He also commended Marcos for his administration’s efforts to sustain peace in Mindanao, the region closest to Malaysia.

“I must express again my profound thanks and gratitude. This has been a century-long contentious issue that affects the region and, in particular, Malaysia too,” Anwar told Marcos.

“And under your leadership [as] President, you have seen great strides in this direction. And I think it’s only our duty as a good neighbor to support and facilitate the process and… things need to be done at the bilateral level to support this endeavor. It has to succeed in the interest of the Philippines and Malaysia and the region and then utilize this enormous potential to the benefit of our people,” he added

Ibrahim vowed to continue providing assistance to the Bangsamoro people in pursuit of peace through various capacity-building programs, including Malaysia’s technical cooperation program.

Malaysia and the Philippines have engaged in collaborative initiatives for a peaceful and more secure region, including conducting joint patrols to combat transnational crimes in the seas.

Malaysia acted as a third-party facilitator in the Philippine government’s peace process with Muslim separatists in Mindanao, which has contributed significantly to the peace and stability in the south.

Marcos and Ibrahim also discussed the repatriation of Filipinos facing legal woes in Malaysia.

“I have asked the Philippines’ assistance and cooperation to expedite the commutation of nationals so that they can be repatriated to the Philippines in a timely manner. And I am pleased with their willingness to facilitate this arrangement in a mutually agreed fashion,” Ibrahim said.

Revitalized relations

Marcos said he sees the visit of the Malaysian Prime Minister as a reaffirmation of the shared commitment of the two countries to revitalize their deeply rooted bilateral relations that has spanned decades.

“I view the Prime Minister’s visit as a rekindling of an old friendship and old bond that took millennia to make, between neighbors and Asean founding members, whose people have interacted and traded for centuries before they even knew the concept of countries,” the President said.

“I further express my hope that this warm kinship between us, as leaders, will set the tone of the bilateral relations between our governments, countries and people, in the years to come,” Marcos added.

With the immense potential in the areas of trade and investment between the Philippines and Malaysia, the two leaders vowed to boost its exchanges on the matter.

In particular, they agreed to “reinvigorate trade and investment exchanges, with a special focus on the halal industry, agriculture and food security, and the digital economy.” (SunStar Philippines)