By Ma. Teresa Montemayor

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo (File photo) 

MANILA – Member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) play a big role in ensuring peace and stability in the region amid pulling tensions between growing powers like United States and China.

“We, the countries surrounding this region, we’re growing into middle powers, middle income countries, and we have a very important role to play, especially in the context of ASEAN centrality, where we are right in the middle of a number of bigger countries,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Wednesday in a CNBC SQUAWK BOX interview.

The materialization of this role could promote development and growth in the region, he added.

He also noted that the competition between the United States and China affects not only the Philippines but also other countries in the region.

The Philippines is a close partner of the US as it has traditional ties with the country.

On the other hand, the Philippines has equally close relations with China in the economic field.

“So these are areas which we are seeking to exploit. And of course, we have to recognize that there is competition, but I suppose competition is much better than conflict,” Manalo said.

When asked if the Supreme Court ruling on certain parts of the South China Sea would affect the relations of China and the Philippines, Manalo said the Department of Foreign Affairs has affirmed what President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said on maritime issues — that it should not define the totality of the bilateral relations with China and that it has to be addressed with the interests of the Filipino people on focus.

“Oil and gas is basically one aspect of our relationship. When they went to Beijing, the two leaders actually reached agreement on a number of sectors, you know, agriculture, even renewable energy, and the infrastructure, etc,” he said. “So it’s quite a broad range of cooperation between the Philippines and China. So, this is basically one aspect. And of course, both leaders also discussed political security issues,” he said. (PNA)