Lorenzana, US counterpart to meet over security issues

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    DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and his US counterpart, Mark Esper, are due to meet in Camp Aguinaldo tomorrow to discuss issues of mutual concern, including the South China Sea dispute.

    Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the dispute will most likely be taken up as part of security issues which he said are “always part of their agenda.”

    The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are disputing ownership of a chain of islands, islets and features in the South China Sea. China has become aggressive in its claims in the past years.

    Andolong said another issue that will be discussed by Lorenzana and Esper is the global fight against terrorism. Several terrorist groups are operating in the country, including the Abu Sayyaf.

    US forces continue to train Filipino troops in the fight against terrorist groups. The Americans have also provided equipment to improve the Philippine military’s counter-terrorism efforts.

    “These will be the subject of their discussions — counter-terrorism, West Philippine Sea and our defense relations with them (Americans),” Andolong said.

    The West Philippine Sea refers to the Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.

    Esper left the US last week to attend the 51st US-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting in South Korea, and proceeded to Thailand to grace the ASEAN-Defense Ministers Meeting Plus.

    “In the Philippines, Secretary Esper will meet with his Philippine counterpart to advance the alliance as well as strengthen regional security cooperation to uphold international rules and norms,” the US Department of Defense said in an earlier advisory.

    The US defense department said Esper “will also lay a wreath and pay his respects to the fallen US service members buried at the Manila American Cemetery.”

    From the Philippines, Esper will proceed to Vietnam to meet with his Vietnamese counterpart and other key leaders “to discuss the regional security environment and ways to enhance the growing defense relationship.”