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EU ready to strengthen maritime security cooperation with the Philippines

EU-CELAC summit in Brussels

MANILA (Reuters) - The European Union is ready to strengthen cooperation with the Philippines on maritime security, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday, as she stressed the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

She was speaking after a meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila where the two leaders discussed a range of issues from security and trade to climate change.

"We are ready to strengthen the cooperation with the Philippines on maritime security in the region by sharing information, conducting threat assessment and building the capacity of your coast guard," she said in a joint press conference with Marcos.

The Philippines is a fulcrum of the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China, with its maritime territory encompassing part of the South China Sea, a strategic and resource-rich waterway over which China also claims sovereignty.

Von der Leyen on Monday reaffirmed the EU's support for a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing's expansive claims, saying the ruling is legally binding and provides the basis for resolving disputes peacefully.

But China, whose "aggressive" actions in the South China Sea have been the subject of hundreds of diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines, does not recognise the landmark ruling.

"An Indo-Pacific free of the threats of coercion is key to all our stability, to our peace and to the prosperity of our people," said Von der Leyen, whose Manila visit was the first by a European Commission president in nearly six decades.

The leaders also discussed relaunching negotiations for a free trade agreement, which have been stalled since 2017. The talks were originally launched in 2015 with the aim of concluding a deal that covers tariffs, non-tariff barriers to trade, and intellectual property among others.

Von der Leyen also said the European Union will support the Philippines' fight against climate change, which is a priority for Marcos as he pushes to increase renewables in the country's power mix to 35% by 2030.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)