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Israeli foreign minister pays historic visit to Philippines

Israel's top diplomat will also visit South Korea.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, right, with his counterpart, Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manelo, in Manila on June 5, 2023. Source: Twitter
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, right, with his counterpart, Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manelo, in Manila on June 5, 2023. Source: Twitter

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is in Manila, the Philippines, marking the first time in 56 years that an Israeli foreign minister has visited that nation’s capital.

Cohen’s trip, during which he will also visit South Korea, comes on the heels of his tour of Central European nations Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia last week.

The Israeli foreign minister met on Monday with the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo, holding a bilateral meeting with the latter to expand business and trade relations.

Cohen and Manalo signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in environmental protection.

“We believe that close cooperation in the field of environmental protection can provide an important contribution to the friendly relations between our two states and to help in addressing issues of sustainability, climate change and help protect our planet,” Cohen said.

Also on Monday, the Israeli embassy in Manila officially opened floors for its economic and defense offices.

At an Israel-Philippines Business Forum on Sunday, Cohen said that he hopes to start direct flights between Tel Aviv and Manila in 2024, adding that it would be “great news for the tourism industry and business community.”

Opportunities for direct Israeli flights to the Far East opened up after Saudi Arabia and Oman began permitting Israeli airliners to cross their airspace.

Cohen also highlighted the potential for establishing a land-sea cargo route that would connect Asia, the Middle East and Europe, thereby reducing transportation costs. A key part of that plan would be an Israeli-Saudi rail link reaching the Persian Gulf.

Cohen expressed a readiness to take Israel-Philippines trade “to new heights.”

Cohen will also meet with senior government officials in South Korea, including Foreign Minister Park Jin, and will discuss with them the expansion of ties in the fields of security and economy.

“We are strengthening relations with the rising powers in Southeast Asia. The visit to the Philippines and South Korea will create policy opportunities for Israel in this important region,” said Cohen.

The visit was a “direct continuation” of his recent visit to India, he added.

“Asia is a continent with tremendous potential, and of great importance to Israel and its economy,” he said.

Cohen is leading two business delegations organized by the Foreign Ministry’s Economic Division, the Export Institute and the Israeli embassies in Manila and Seoul.

The business delegation to the Philippines will focus on agriculture, water, energy and cleantech, security and cyber, emergency preparedness and health.

The delegation to South Korea will focus on the fields of automotive, robotics, smart factories, artificial intelligence and AR (augmented reality).

Over the past several years, thousands of Filipinos have received training in Israel through Mashav, Israel’s agency for international development cooperation, in areas such as agriculture, water management, education, gender equality, women’s empowerment, sustainability, and health. Around 5,550 Filipinos are currently completing 11-month agricultural internships in Israel.

During the meeting, Cohen expressed Israel’s gratitude to the Philippines for its remarkable humanitarian efforts during the Holocaust. He acknowledged the Philippines’ role in rescuing 1,300 Jews and being the only Asian country to support the establishment of the State of Israel.

Cohen’s trip to the Philippines is the first by an Israeli foreign minister in more than 50 years. The last Israeli minister of foreign affairs to visit Manila was Abba Eban in 1967.

Approximately 28,000 Filipinos work in Israel as caregivers and hotel workers. Since the end of coronavirus travel restrictions, the Philippines have been marketing its country as a tourist destination for Israelis.

Israeli-Philippine relations date back to the Jewish state’s founding. The Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in favor of the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 to create a Jewish state. Full diplomatic relations were established with the signing of the 1958 Treaty of Friendship.

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