Visit by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan to the Republic of the Philippines, 15 to 18 April 2024

16 April 2024

Minister Balakrishnan is in the Philippines for a working visit. Minister Balakrishnan called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on 15 April. Minister Balakrishnan and President Marcos Jr. reaffirmed the excellent and longstanding relations between Singapore and the Philippines. They discussed emerging areas of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on regional developments.


Minister Balakrishnan met and was hosted to lunch by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo on 16 April. Minister Balakrishnan and Secretary Manalo reaffirmed the warm friendship and multi-faceted cooperation between Singapore and the Philippines. They had a fruitful discussion on ways for both countries to further expand bilateral cooperation, especially in the areas of people-to-people ties, carbon credits, renewable energy and the ASEAN Power Grid. They also engaged in a wide-ranging and candid discussion on regional and international developments. They emphasised the importance of strengthening ASEAN Centrality and unity, and upholding a rules-based international order to promote peace and stability in the region.


Following their meeting, Minister Balakrishnan and Secretary Manalo held a Joint Press Conference (JPC), where they unveiled a logo to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the Philippines. Minister Balakrishnan said that Singapore and the Philippines are keen to strengthen collaboration in forward-looking areas such as the green economy, smart and sustainable infrastructure and innovation for the benefit of our peoples. The JPC transcript is at Annex.


Minister Balakrishnan called on Vice President and Secretary of Education Sara Duterte this afternoon. They reaffirmed the robust people-to-people ties, which have underpinned the bilateral relationship, and welcomed further cooperation in areas such as education and tourism. Minister Balakrishnan also met Chairperson of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Philippine House of Representatives Congresswoman Rachel Arenas, and Representatives Loreto B. Acharon.



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16 APRIL 2024





Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Opening Remarks and Q&A Response at the Joint Press Conference with the Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo in Pasay City, Republic of the Philippines


Minister: Thank you [Secretary Manalo] for that very warm welcome. I am glad to be back in the Philippines. This is a very timely visit. As you can see, we are celebrating 55 years of diplomatic relations between two nations, close bond of trust, very tight people-to-people relations, and of course, both the Philippines and Singapore were also founding members of ASEAN. I am also very glad and honoured that I had a chance to have a meeting with President Marcos yesterday evening, and to be followed by our in-depth discussion that we just had this morning.


Singapore businesses are confident in the prospects of the Philippines’ economic growth. In fact, Singapore has been one of the top investors in the Philippines, and this is not just last year, but for the past several years. It is a vote of confidence in the Filipino people and in the Philippine economy. Our investments from Singapore businesses have included areas like real estate, hospitality, telecommunications, transport, and logistics, and in fact, tomorrow I am taking the opportunity to visit Clark, where I believe Singapore businesses such as SIA Engineering (Philippines) and the Changi Airports International have also established a presence.


Both our nations are also keen to strengthen collaboration in future-oriented areas, including the green economy, smart and sustainable infrastructure, innovation, start-ups and opportunities, especially for the many young people that the Philippines has. In particular, there are two areas I wanted to highlight today, one on carbon credits and second on energy collaboration.


During my discussion with Secretary Manalo, just now, we talked about the establishment of a carbon credits market that is compliant with Article Six of the Paris Agreement. I believe this is in the mutual interests of both our countries, given the global need to transit towards net carbon zero. The Philippines, in my view, has great potential in this area, and Singapore and the Philippines can work together on a framework for the trading of carbon credits. This will open up new growth areas and opportunities for the Philippine economy, whilst expanding Singapore's businesses access to the available carbon credits that would be generated.


We also discussed energy collaboration at a regional level. For instance, the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP) has demonstrated that it is possible to have cross-border energy trade between ASEAN member states. In this part of the world, the connection between the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei is another critical pillar. And if you put these two networks together, you in fact, get the beginning of a very significant ASEAN power grid. And it just so happens that the Philippines is also chair of the ASEAN Power Grid Consultative Committee, and we look forward to working closely with the Philippines to make the ASEAN Power Grid a reality. Singapore and the Philippines will also work closely together in other emerging areas of energy, which we discussed. And as I said earlier, this will be a learning journey for both of us as we transit into the economic and energy transformations and also the transformative power of artificial intelligence. There is no shortage of areas which we can work on for the future.


I thank you [Secretary Manalo] for your extensive brief about the situation in the South China Sea. Singapore has been a longstanding advocate of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We believe this sets out a comprehensive international legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas should be carried out. As a tiny city state, Singapore has to believe in the importance of the international rule of law. If it is just the law of the jungle, where the powerful do what they will and the weak must suffer what they must, then the future will be very bleak for Singapore and the Philippines. Singapore has been watching recent developments in the South China Sea with concern. Singapore is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, and we do not take sides in the competing territorial and maritime claims. We hope that all parties will maintain open channels of communication, will preserve regional peace and stability, and ensure adherence to international law, including (and) especially (the) 1982 UNCLOS. As a small, trade-dependent city state, Singapore’s interest is in maintaining peace and stability in one of the world’s busiest waterways, which is what the South China Sea is. We uphold the right of all states to freedom of navigation and overflight and support the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including UNCLOS. ASEAN and China are currently working on negotiating what we hope will be an effective and substantive Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which will be in accordance with international law and UNCLOS. It will safeguard the rights and interests of all parties in the South China Sea. I am pleased that we have made some progress so far. We are now in the third reading of the single draft negotiating text. Although, quite frankly, it is hard to say when the negotiations will conclude, given the complex nature of the issues. We continue to encourage all parties to participate actively in the negotiations and in the practical maritime cooperation initiatives established under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.


We also had discussions on concerns in the Middle East. For both the Philippines and Singapore, I think we stand for peace. We hope that despite the fact that this is perhaps an intractable problem, nevertheless, if all parties can seek to de-escalate tensions, can find a way to protect civilians, release all hostages immediately and unconditionally, and then find a way to create a formulation in which the two states, Palestine and Israel, will be able to live in peace and dignity. Because we cannot see any other alternative to avoiding these recurrent cycles of violence which have gone on for far too long. We also discussed the recent escalation from the aerial attacks that were launched by Iran, apparently in response to what they said was an attack on a diplomatic facility. These escalations pose significant danger to a regional conflagration, which ultimately will also impact all of us here in Southeast Asia. So we hope for the best. Again, I thank you for this opportunity to consult closely with you and with your team, in a way which we can only do so because of the large reservoir of trust, and goodwill, and mutual confidence. Thank you, Secretary Manalo.


Moderator: Thank you, Minister Balakrishnan. In the interest of time, we will go straight to the questions and answers. We will entertain only one direct question for the Minister and one direct question for Secretary.




GMA Integrated News: Good afternoon. Hello Foreign Minister Balakrishnan. Welcome to Manila. I am JP from GMA news. ASEAN has been very vocal on regional issues concerning peace and security, including conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, as you mentioned. As one of ASEAN founding members, why is ASEAN not unified in condemning China for its concerning actions in the South China Sea that impact our region's peace and stability? How important is it for ASEAN to have a unified, united voice on the South China Sea dispute and in calling out China's aggressive behaviour? How will the upcoming leadership change in Singapore influence this stance?


Minister: Let me answer the simpler question first. Yes, there will be a leadership transition in Singapore on 15 May. I do not expect any change in foreign policy, in our contributions to ASEAN, and the ongoing cooperation, projects, investments and the further deepening of the relationship with the Philippines. On the South China Sea and ASEAN, I have explained it earlier. First point is, note that not all ASEAN states are claimant states, or are necessarily party to the overlapping claims and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. It is important to understand that. The second point is that does not mean ASEAN as a whole has no stake in what happens in the South China Sea. As I explained just now, the most important thing for the whole of ASEAN is to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, because not only is it in our immediate backyard, but it is also one of the world's busiest waterways. Although Singapore has got no claims in the South China Sea, the moment you have escalation of tension, or collisions, or worse, military action in the South China Sea, it will immediately impair and impede trade. It will increase insurance premiums. It will certainly have an inflationary impact on our economies. And it will dampen confidence in what in fact, should be multiple decades of growth and progress that we all expect and that our people need in order for us to achieve the economic transformation and the expansion in jobs. The first point is peace and stability are paramount.


Second point is that we should recognise that questions of sovereignty, in fact, are very difficult to resolve. It may sometimes take more than one generation to resolve. Disputes over sovereignty do not necessarily have to lead the conflict or kinetic action in the waves of the South China Sea. We continue to advocate for peaceful resolution of disputes, for avoiding the use of or threat of force to resolve these very difficult, long-term problems.


On the point of maritime entitlements, we believe UNCLOS sets out a comprehensive statement of how maritime entitlements should be established, maintained and the responsibilities for all parties. So, you will notice that ASEAN has always upheld the primacy, the importance of UNCLOS. Sometimes people refer to it as a constitution for the oceans. I think on that, there is no question. ASEAN is certainly united on the importance of UNCLOS.


The third aspect is to maintain ASEAN unity and the centrality of ASEAN.  Now, this is not just a form of words, because you need to understand that ASEAN has got ten members and in the future, 11. We represent the most diverse regional grouping in the world, in terms of size, economic development, political structures, and demographics. It is complex, it is variegated. It also means that in our relations to the superpowers, both superpowers and to the middle powers, like India, Australia, Europe, if you look carefully at each member of ASEAN, each of us may have slightly different levels of proximity in terms of strategic alignment with one or the other. But I believe ASEAN is united in the sense that no single ASEAN country wants to become a proxy, or a vassal state of any power. So, you need to be able to deal with this variety, internally, as well as the diversity of our approaches externally, but still recognise that we want to maintain unity, cohesion and centrality of ASEAN. One example of this is the negotiations for the Code of Conduct, which is being conducted as ASEAN on one hand, with China on the other hand. Now, the Code of Conduct will not resolve issues of sovereignty, or maritime entitlement. But it is important nevertheless, because we believe it is one way to reduce tension and to reduce the possibility of complications, if collisions or disputes occur in the way of the South China Sea. So, in short, I would put to you that in fact, ASEAN has been successful. ASEAN does represent an organisation which is able to encompass the great diversity of membership and still maintain sufficient discipline, coherence and relevance in maintaining peace and stability, and to focus on economic integration, and in expanding the range of strategic opportunities for every single member of ASEAN. So, thank you for that question.



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Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had a breakfast meeting with House of Representatives Rachel Arenas and Loreto Archaron.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore





Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had a breakfast meeting with House of Representatives Rachel Arenas and Loreto Archaron.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore





Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan met with Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo today and unveiled a logo commemorating 55 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and the Philippines.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore





Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan called on Vice President and Secretary of Education Sara Duterte today.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

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