Zelenskyy in Philippines to promote peace summit he says China and Russia are trying to undermine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in the Philippines on Monday in a rare Asian trip to urge regional leaders to attend a Swiss-organised global peace summit on the war in Ukraine that he accuses Russia, with China's help, of trying to undermine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr

Manila | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in the Philippines on Monday in a rare Asian trip to urge regional leaders to attend a Swiss-organised global peace summit on the war in Ukraine that he accuses Russia, with China's help, of trying to undermine.

Zelenskyy arrived unannounced and under heavy security in Manila late Sunday after speaking over the weekend at the Shangri-La defence forum in Singapore.

He had planned but failed to meet with Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on the sidelines of that annual defence gathering and decided to fly here to personally invite Marcos to attend the summit in Switzerland, two Filipino officials told AP. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss details of Zelenskyy's secretive trip to Manila.

Both leaders spoke critically of China at the defence forum in Singapore, which was attended by top defence and government officials from around the world, including from Washington and Beijing. The talks were held amid the raging wars in Gaza and Ukraine as well as growing tensions and rivalry for influence between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific region.

At a news conference at the Singapore forum Sunday, Zelenskyy accused China of helping Russia to disrupt the Swiss-organised peace summit by pressuring other countries and their leaders not to attend the talks.

"Russia, using Chinese influence in the region, using Chinese diplomats also, does everything to disrupt the peace summit," he said without elaborating. "Regrettably, this is unfortunate that such a big independent powerful country as China is an instrument in the hands of (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin." The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Zelenskyy's claim.

China has taken what it says is a neutral position on the war, putting it at odds with Ukraine, the US and most of Europe and its trade with Russia has grown, easing the economic impact of Western sanctions. American, Ukrainian and other intelligence agencies say there is evidence that Chinese parts are winding up in Russian weaponry, even if China is not directly arming its neighbour.

Switzerland had been hoping China would attend the peace conference in mid-June, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning signalled on Friday that that was unlikely.

At the security forum, Zelenskyy urged top defence officials to participate in the talks in Switzerland, expressing disappointment over the failure of some countries to commit to attending. Ukraine, he said, has proposals to make at the summit as a basis for peace, addressing nuclear security, food security, the release of prisoners of war and the return of Ukrainian children abducted by Russia.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is "ready to hear various proposals and thoughts that lead us ... to an end of the war and a sustainable and just peace".

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the conference and renewed US commitments to Ukraine. In an address to the forum on Saturday, Austin said that "Putin's war of aggression has provided us all with a preview of a world that none of us would want".

Marcos, whose country has had escalating clashes with China over disputed islets in the South China Sea, bluntly underscored the dangers of the regional flashpoint on Friday at the defence forum. He said that if "a wilful act" should result in a Filipino dying in one of the periodic faceoffs, "that is, I think, very, very close to what we define as an act of war".

"That would certainly increase the level of response," Marcos said in response to a question.

Marcos restated earlier concerns over a new law issued by China giving its coast guard license to seize foreign ships "that illegally enter China's territorial waters" and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The same law made new reference to 2021 legislation that says China's coast guard can fire on foreign ships if necessary.

"Illegal, coercive, aggressive and deceptive actions continue to violate our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdictions," Marcos said, without naming China but he added the Philippines remained committed to a peaceful resolution of the disputes.

Austin said at the forum that US commitment to the Philippines as a treaty ally is "ironclad" but reiterated the importance of dialogue with China.

"There are a number of things that can happen at sea or in the air, we recognise that," he said. "But our goal is to make sure that we don't allow things to spiral out of control unnecessarily."

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