Foreign Minister Eli Cohen traveled to the Philippines on Sunday for a historic multi-day visit, the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister in 56 years. He will continue from there to South Korea. The visits follows an important trip to central Europe and also one to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in April.
Cohen is Manila-bound, where he will meet senior government officials and discuss expansion of ties, trade and security. “We are strengthening relations with rising powers in Southeast Asia,” Cohen said. “The visit will create policy opportunities for Israel in this important region,” he added, noting the proximity to his recent trips. In May, Cohen travelled to India where he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
Cohen is expected to meet the President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his counterpart, Foreign Minister Enrique A. Manalo. In South Korea, he is expected to meet Foreign Minister Park Jin.
Business delegations are travelling with the foreign minister, including members of the Israel Export Institute, an Israeli governmental agency under the Ministry of Trade and Labor which works to pave the way for trade opportunities and joint ventures abroad.
In Manila, the business delegation will focus on agriculture, energy, cyber and security as well as health and emergency preparedness. In South Korea, it will also focus on robotics, artificial intelligence and automotive sectors, catering to the strengths of Seoul. There will be business seminars in both countries.
Cohen’s trip takes place in the context of Israel seeking to deepen political and economic relations with not just the Philippines and South Korea, but other countries in Asia. Cohen noted, in the statement from the MFA that Asia is a continent with tremendous potential and of great importance to Israel.
Cohen will meet ministerial counterparts and also will sign agreements aiming to strengthen relations and seek other forms of cooperation in security, trade and innovation.
First visit since before the Six Day War
This is the first visit since March 1967, when then-foreign minister Abba Eban visited southeast Asia and Australia, arriving in the Philippines for a visit to Manila.
Eban traveled to the Philippines with his wife Suzy, according to reports at the time, and paid a visit to a national memorial in Manila. According to a JTA report from March 15, 1967, Eban had to cancel a speech at the University of the Philippines because authorities “feared trouble from over 100 placard-carrying Muslim students and other ‘anti-imperialist’ students waiting for him to appear.” According to reports other demonstrators gathered at the airport to protest the visit.
The visit to Manila is important historically, not only because Israel and the Philippines have had ties since 1958 but also because the Philippines played a role as a sanctuary for Jewish refugees in the 1930s under the leadership of Manuel Quezon. The rescue of Jews in the Philippines has been recognized by UNHCR.
The trip to Manila also comes in the wake of the 2018 visit to Israel by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. In February the two countries celebrated 65 years of ties and Israel stressed at the time important new deals between the countries. The Philippine Navy has acquired Israeli Shaldag-class patrol boats in recent years.
Israel Aerospace Industries is participating in the MADEX International Maritime Defense Industry Exhibition in Busan, South Korea from June 7-9. IAI said it “will present a diverse range of battle-proven naval and maritime products, reaffirming its commitment to pushing the boundaries of innovation in the defense sector.”