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Sabah claim not on agenda for Duterte visit to Malaysia

The Philippine claim is based on the title of the sultan of Sulu, who ceded proprietary rights over the 76,115-square-kilometer area to the government in 1962.
MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines’ claim to Sabah will likely not be discussed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s official visit to Malaysia.
 
Duterte said his visit would focus on bilateral cooperation and security issues including terrorism, piracy and illegal drugs.
 
“Not at this time because my visit is just one day to focus on what is happening in the Malacca Strait,” Duterte told reporters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 when asked if he would raise the country’s Sabah claim during his official visit.
 
“But, what is important that I can talk to him about issues including the rebellion of the Moros in Jolo, in the Zamboanga archipelago,” he added, apparently referring to Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak.
 
Before assuming the presidency, Duterte promised to pursue the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, which is now being administered by Malaysia.
 
Asked last May if he would also recognize the claim of the Sultanate of Sulu, Duterte replied: “Yes. What has been the policy will always be the policy of the government especially those for the interest of the country. We have to stake our claim.”
 
The Sultanate of Sulu used to rule over some areas in the southern Philippines and Sabah. In 1963, the British government moved Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia.
 
The Philippines claims that Sabah was not ceded but only leased to the British North Borneo Co. The heirs of the sultan of Sulu still receive lease payments for Sabah. The Philippine claim is based on the title of the sultan of Sulu, who ceded proprietary rights over the 76,115-square-kilometer area to the government in 1962.
 
Malaysia claims, though, that the international community has been recognizing Sabah as part of its territory since the creation of the federation in 1963.
 
In 2013, followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram, who has since died, entered Lahad Datu in Sabah to assert their rights over the area, resulting in clashes with Malaysian authorities.

Two-country visit

Before flying to Malaysia, Duterte was scheduled to visit Thailand to pay his respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whom he described as “a true friend of the Philippines.”
 
“He (Bhumibol) will be remembered for his dedicated efforts to foster goodwill and friendship between our nations and peoples. For all he has done to bridge peoples to greater understanding, it truly deserves a special place in history,” the president said.
 
Duterte said his trip to Malaysia is part of his introductory visits to Southeast Asian countries.
 
He said he would meet with Razak to tackle ways to sustain growth in both countries, ensure peace and inclusive development.
 
“The focus of my visit shall be to strengthen the Philippines’ partnership in Malaysia for security and stability, these are the foundations of our nation’s peace process, progress, and prosperity,” the president said.
 
“Foremost on my agenda is the maritime security and the fight against piracy at sea,” he added.
 
Duterte said the Philippines and Malaysia should work together to ensure that waterways are secure and criminals and terrorists cannot use these waters to undertake illegal activities.
 
“I will also seek greater cooperation in the war against the illicit drug trade. This menace knows no boundaries and cooperation between our nations is vital in order to address this problem,” the Philippine leader said.
 
“Bilateral defense, security and law enforcement efforts should be seen as supporting both our nations resolve to contribute to greater stability in Southeast Asia and in the larger region,” he added.
 
Duterte said he and Razak would also discuss the peace process in Mindanao. Malaysia is the third-party facilitator in the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
 
“In my talk with the prime minister, I shall seek Malaysia’s continued support for the peace process in the southern Philippines,” the president said.
 
Also on the agenda of Duterte’s visit is economic cooperation, including ways to boost trade and investments and support for the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area.
 
“I will also use the occasion to identify other opportunities for broader collaboration with Malaysia,” Duterte said.
 
The president will also meet with the Filipino community to discuss his programs and policies.
 
“I am hopeful that my visit will move further forward as we pursue common aspiration for our peoples, our nations and our region,” Duterte said.
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