MANILA - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday arrived in the Philippines, the last stop of his Southeast Asian trip, to hold high-level discussions with Filipino officials on security issues.
Austin, among the first top officials of the Biden administration to visit Manila, was welcomed by US Embassy Charge d’Affaires John Law and Philippine officials.
Austin is scheduled to have a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte before meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
The DFA said the two officials will discuss mutual security concerns and how the Philippines and the United States could further strengthen their long-standing alliance.
Austin's trip to the Philippines comes amid tensions between Beijing and Manila due to maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The Pentagon chief earlier criticized China's actions in the hotly contested sea, where Beijing has overlapping claims with several states in the region, saying it "has no basis in international law."
He had stressed that he would emphasize US commitment to freedom of the navigation during his overseas trip.
His Philippine counterpart, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, earlier said Austin is expected to stay in the country until Friday.
The two are likely to discuss Manila and Washington's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which is in limbo after Duterte's decision last year to abrogate it.