Zelenskyy in Manila to promote peace summit, which he says China and Russia are trying to undermine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, meets Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Monday June 3, 2024.(Jam Sta Rosa/Pool Photo via AP)

By JIM GOMEZ Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with the Philippine president on Monday in a rare Asian trip to urge regional leaders to attend a Swiss-organized global peace summit on the war in Ukraine that he accuses Russia, with China’s help, of trying to undermine.

Zelenskyy arrived unannounced and under heavy security in Manila late Sunday after speaking over the weekend at the Shangri-La defense forum in Singapore. He was given a red-carpet welcome with military honors Monday at the presidential palace before meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., after which he left the Philippines.

Marcos pledged that his country would take part in the peace summit, Philippine Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said.

“I’m happy to hear today from you that you’ll participate in our peace steps,” Zelenskyy told Marcos. “It’s a very strong signal.”

The White House said Vice President Kamala Harris will represent the U.S. at the meeting in Lucerne on June 15.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs more mental health workers for its soldiers. Marcos promised to help and welcomed a decision by Ukraine to open an embassy in Manila this year which would hasten efforts to deliver assistance.

“We have ourselves been trying to promote the continuing adherence to international law in our part of the world,” Marcos said. “The issues that you are facing are similar and in parallel to ours and, therefore, the position the Philippines takes is always to promote peace.”

Both leaders spoke critically of China at the Singapore forum, which was attended by top defense and government officials from around the world, including from Washington and Beijing. The talks were held amid the raging wars in Gaza and Ukraine as well as growing tensions and rivalry for influence between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific region.

At a news conference in Singapore on Sunday, Zelenskyy accused China of helping Russia to disrupt the Swiss-organized peace summit by pressuring other countries not to attend.

“Russia, using Chinese influence in the region, using Chinese diplomats also, does everything to disrupt the peace summit,” he said, without elaborating. “This is unfortunate that such a big independent powerful country as China is an instrument in the hands of (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin.”

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning denied the allegation. “Our position is open and transparent, and there is no such thing as pressuring other countries” Mao said.

China has taken what it says is a neutral position on the war, putting it at odds with Ukraine, the U.S. and most of Europe. Its trade with Russia has grown, easing the economic impact of Western sanctions. American, Ukrainian and other intelligence agencies say there is evidence that Chinese parts are winding up in Russian weaponry, even if China is not directly arming its neighbor.

Switzerland had been hoping China would attend the peace conference in mid-June, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning suggested Friday that was unlikely.

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

He said Ukraine is “ready to hear various proposals and thoughts that lead us … to an end of the war and a sustainable and just peace.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the conference and renewed U.S. commitments to Ukraine. In an address to the forum Saturday, Austin said that “Putin’s war of aggression has provided us all with a preview of a world that none of us would want.”

Marcos, whose country has had escalating clashes with China over disputed islets in the South China Sea, bluntly underscored the dangers of the regional flashpoint Friday at the defense forum. He said that if “a willful act” should result in a Filipino dying in the high-seas hostilities, “that is, I think, very, very close to what we define as an act of war.”

“That would certainly 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 he added that the Philippines remains committed to a peaceful resolution of the disputes.

Austin said at the forum that the U.S. commitment to the Philippines as a treaty ally is “ironclad” but reiterated the importance of dialogue with China.

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


Associated Press journalists Joeal Calupitan in Manila, Philippines, and Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.