By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

TENSIONS in the South China Sea and power rivalries in the region would be discussed by Southeast Asian leaders during their summit in Indonesia, Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said on Tuesday.

He left the country on Tuesday for the 42nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia.  

In his departure speech, Mr. Marcos Jr. said he would discuss with his fellow ASEAN leaders issues including efforts to attain food and energy security, boost trade and investments, address transnational crimes and protect migrant workers.

“The leaders of ASEAN will also exchange views on pressing issues of common concerns such as developments in the South China Sea, the situation in Myanmar and major power rivalry amongst others,” he added.

Mr. Marcos expects “productive engagements” with nine other ASEAN leaders, saying the regional bloc has a “very clear area of commonality.”

“And as the theme of this ASEAN Summit is clearly manifesting, it is once again towards economic growth.”

He said ASEAN had been viewed by nonmembers like China, the United States and European Union as a “growth center for the global economy.”

“And that is why it is very important that we go and continue to discuss amongst other ASEAN leaders of all the member-states on how we can maximize and find that extra energy, that synergy from our working together.”

During the 25th ASEAN-China Summit in Cambodia last year, Mr. Marcos pushed the approval of a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which is being claimed by Beijing almost in its entirety.

In 2002, ASEAN and China signed a nonbinding agreement in which 11 countries agreed that a South China Sea code of conduct was needed.

The Philippines and other ASEAN members such as Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam hold different — and in some cases overlapping — claims over the South China Sea.

Indonesia, this year’s ASEAN chairman, is a nonclaimant state but has conflicts with China over its exploration of oil and gas in the North Natuna Sea.

China claims that some parts of the area fall under its nine-dash line, which Indonesia said in 2020 was illegal.

The largest ASEAN member, in a note verbale addressed to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres in 2020, also raised the 2016 Hague arbitral ruling that largely favored the Philippines in its sea dispute with China. 

The three-day ASEAN Summit and Related Summits take place amid increasing tensions between China and the US, whose 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines has been expanded by Mr. Marcos.

Aside from being vocal against China’s expansive activities in the South China Sea, the US has also criticized the Asian superpower’s aggression against self-ruled Taiwan. 

China has criticized the EDCA expansion, accusing Washington of endangering regional peace and stability.

Mr. Marcos, 65, will also attend the 15th Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area Summit (BIMP-EAGA).

He will also participate in a series of interfaces with the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and representatives from the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, ASEAN Youth and High-Level Task Force on the ASEAN Community Post-2025 Vision.

“In these meetings, we will have the opportunity to highlight the importance of strengthening cooperation in the BIMP-EAGA subregion to sustain its thriving economy, the strong partnership between the executive and legislative bodies of ASEAN, the pivotal role of the private sector and youth in advancing growth and shaping the future as well as the future direction of the ASEAN Vision.”

Mr. Marcos also wants to meet with the leaders of Timor-Leste, whose 2011 ASEAN membership bid was approved in principle at a summit in Phnom Penh last year.

Timor-Leste’s prime minister, Taur Matan Ruak, has confirmed his attendance at the summit.

In 2022, ASEAN countries had a combined gross domestic product of $3.66 trillion (P204 million), according to