PHNOM PENH– While Manila and Beijing appear to be drifting apart due to territorial spats in the West Philippine Sea, another Asian giant is pursuing deeper economic and political ties with Manila.
The Philippines and India engaged in bilateral talks on Sunday evening to explore avenues for further cooperation on the sidelines of the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit and related Summits at the Peace Palace here.
The bilateral talks came upon the request of the Indian delegation, which appeared “quite persistent” in seeking a dialogue with President Benigno Aquino III, Filipino officials said in a briefing for Manila-based reporters.
During the talks, Aquino and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explored opportunities for boosting economic ties, agreeing that both countries can learn from each other, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said.
In 2011, bilateral trade between the Philippines and India amounted to $1 billion, rising by 10.8-percent from the previous year, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.
Singh told the Philippine president that India shared Asean’s concern for ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), as well as for removing barriers to trade.
Asean members Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, along with China and Taiwan, have overlapping claims to the sea that is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, and is home to vital sea lanes through which half the world’s trade passes.
Aquino informed Singh that he would not be able to make it to the Asean-India Commemorative Summit to be held on Dec. 20-21 in New Delhi to mark the 20th anniversary of the Asean-India dialogue, Coloma said.
Aquino said he has asked Vice President Binay to represent him at the event, with the theme “Asean-India Partnership for Peace and Shared Prosperity.” Singh said the summit signified the full fruition of India’s integration with Asean, a 10-nation bloc.
Singh also congratulated Aquino on the signing of the Bangsamoro framework agreement and said both countries can benefit from sharing experiences in post-conflict rebuilding, Coloma said.
The two leaders also exchanged views on the evolving global financial architecture in light of the economic crisis in Europe, continuing high unemployment in the US, and the slowdown in growth in Asia, Coloma said.
Singh suggested that both countries can contribute to a “pool of wisdom, knowledge and experience” for coping with economic challenges, he added.
Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras said the meeting was held at past 7 p.m. Sunday. “It’s quite late but India has been quite persistent in requesting for that bilateral,” he said.
The only other bilateral meeting with Aquino for the day was with Vietnam, scheduled at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Almendras said the flu-stricken Philippine President had 10 opportunities to speak, which was why he opted to attend the Asean summit in spite of his condition.
At Sunday’s plenary, he spoke up about the need for Asean centrality in resolving disputes with China over territories in the West Philippine Sea. He was also supposed to address the meeting with the Asean Business Advisory Council, but time ran out and only a handful of leaders were able to deliver their speeches.