Philippines, New Zealand Plan Troop Visits, Logistics Deals

(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines and New Zealand are working on agreements on military visits and logistics support as they boost defense ties amid elevated tensions between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea.

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“Both sides committed to the signing of a Mutual Logistics Supporting Arrangement by the end of 2024, and to concluding a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement,” according to a joint statement after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met with visiting New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on Thursday in Manila.

The relationship between the two countries “will become a comprehensive partnership” in 2026 during the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, Luxon said in a joint briefing with Marcos. The New Zealand prime minister sought to deepen his engagement with Southeast Asia during his three-nation visit including Singapore and Thailand.

“Together, we are committed to stepping up our defense relationship,” said Luxon in his first visit to the Philippines since taking office last year. Marcos said they’re aiming for wide-ranging maritime cooperation including on fighting illegal fishing and terrorism “that will have our respective law enforcement and civilian agencies working together to address common threats at sea.”

Tensions between China and the Philippines over competing claims in the disputed waters have risen in the past year. Manila said an encounter in March damaged a Filipino boat and injured some crew members after two Chinese Coast Guard ships fired water cannons at it.

Marcos has moved to strengthen defense ties with other countries apart from the US, Manila’s long-time ally. The country has entered into talks for mutual military visit pacts with Japan and France.

New Zealand’s foreign minister is expected to visit the Southeast Asian nation later this year and discuss the comprehensive partnership plan, the joint statement said.

Luxon also said he agreed with Marcos to grow two-way trade between the countries by at least 50% in the next few years. The two leaders also emphasized the importance of improving visa facilitation between their countries.

(Updates with details of leaders’ joint statement.)

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