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Zelensky in Philippines to promote peace summit, he says China, Russia are trying to undermine

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in the Philippines Monday as part of a rare trip to Asia to urge the region’s leaders to attend a Swiss-hosted global peace summit on the war in Ukraine which he accuses Russia, with the help of China, of trying to undermine.

Zelensky arrived unannounced and under heavy security in Manila on Sunday evening after speaking over the weekend at the Shangri-La defense forum in Singapore. He was given a red carpet welcome with military honors at the presidential palace on Monday before meeting Marcos.

In a recording released by the administration, Zelensky appears to indicate that Marcos accepted the invitation, although it is unclear whether the Philippine leader agreed to personally attend the peace summit in Switzerland or to send a representative.

“I am happy to hear from you today that you will participate in our peace efforts,” Zelensky told Marcos. “It’s a very strong signal.”

The Marcos administration did not immediately comment on the matter.

Ukraine, Zelenskyy said, will also open an embassy in Manila, a move praised by Marcos as it would help facilitate more aid to the war-ravaged nation.

“We continue to do everything we can to promote peace and end the fighting,” Marcos said.

Zelensky had planned but failed to meet Marcos on the sidelines of the annual defense gathering in Singapore and decided to travel to Manila to personally invite Marcos to attend the summit in Switzerland.

Both leaders criticized China at the Singapore forum, which was attended by senior government and defense officials from around the world, including Washington and Beijing. The talks took place against a backdrop of raging wars in Gaza and Ukraine, as well as growing tensions and rivalries for influence between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific region.

At a news conference in Singapore on Sunday, Zelensky accused China of helping Russia disrupt the Swiss-hosted peace summit by pressuring other countries and their leaders not to attend to the talks.

“Russia, using Chinese influence in the region, also using Chinese diplomats, is doing everything to disrupt the peace summit,” he said without elaborating. “Unfortunately, it is regrettable that a country as large and powerful as China is a tool in the hands of (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin.”

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Zelensky’s claims.

China has taken what it sees as a neutral stance on the war, putting it at odds with Ukraine, the United States and most of Europe, and its trade with Russia increased, thus mitigating the economic impact of Western sanctions. U.S., Ukrainian and other intelligence agencies say there is evidence that Chinese parts are finding their way into Russian weaponry, even though China does not directly arm its neighbor.

Switzerland had hoped that China would attend the peace conference in mid-June, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning signaled on Friday that this was unlikely.

At the security forum, Zelensky urged top defense officials to attend the talks in Switzerland, expressing disappointment at the failure of some countries to commit to attending. Ukraine, he added, has proposals to make at the summit as a basis for peace, regarding nuclear security, food security, the release of prisoners of war and the return of Ukrainian children kidnapped by Russia.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine was “ready to hear various proposals and thoughts that would lead us… to an end to the war and a lasting and just peace.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Zelensky on the sidelines of the conference and renewed US commitments to Ukraine. In a speech at the forum Saturday, Austin said Putin’s “war of aggression has given us all a glimpse of a world none of us want.”

Marcos, whose country has seen growing clashes with China over disputed islets in the South China Sea, bluntly highlighted the dangers of the regional hotspot Friday at the defense forum. He said that if “a deliberate act” were to result in the death of a Filipino in hostilities on the high seas, “that is, I think, very, very close to what we define as an act of war.”

“It would definitely increase the level of response,” Marcos said in response to a question.

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

Austin said at the forum that the United States’ commitment to the Philippines as a treaty ally was “ironclad” but reiterated the importance of dialogue with China.

“A number of things can happen at sea or in the air, we recognize that,” he said. “But our goal is to make sure we don’t allow things to get unnecessarily out of control.”

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Associated Press reporter Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report from Manila.

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