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PHL, Australia discuss jointpatrols in South China Sea

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THE Philippines and Australia are looking at the possibility of conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea as both countries worked to deepen their operational cooperation in the areas of defense and security.

The idea of joint patrols was discussed on Wednesday during the meeting between Department of National Defense Officer in Charge Carlito Galvez Jr. and Australia Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Richard Marles.

Marles’ visit in the country coincided with the ongoing counter terrorism training between Philippine Army units and the Australian Army which began on Monday in Maguindanao and will last until end-March.

“(We are) also looking at ways which we can pursue joint patrols together in the South China Sea, and looking at ways in which we can do more exercises together,” Marles said during a news briefing with Galvez at Camp Aguinaldo.

If it pushes through, Australia would be the second country to join the Philippines in its patrol of its maritime waters in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), which China disputes and where it has recently harassed crew members of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel by flashing a military-grade laser.

During his visit to Manila earlier this month, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III disclosed that the US had agreed with the Philippines to resume their joint maritime patrols in the WPS, apparently to counter China’s aggressive activities there.

Australia is a key ally of the country and one of only two states after the US where it has an existing security agreement, this being the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA).

Aside from joint patrols, which may possibly involve planes and ships, Australia and the Philippines are bent on strengthening their military alliance, which include training of forces.

“We are sending one of the largest contingents to Exercise Balikatan in the coming months and we look forward to the Philippines, for the first time, sending observers to Exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia in August,” Marles said.

“All of these speaks to a deepening relationship, a relationship built on a very strong foundation both at the level of government and at the level of people. And we’re really excited and filled with optimism about where this relationship goes,” he added.

Marles said that during his meeting with Galvez, they agreed that the Philippines and Australia will hold a defense ministers’ meeting on a regular basis.

“We will be establishing on an annual basis now as a result of today’s meeting, a Defense Ministers’ Meeting, between our two countries, so that it becomes a formed institutional path of the architecture of our two countries, and we look forward to the first of those meetings, after this, occurring in Australia,” he said.

Marles said the Philippines and Australia will also sign a strategic partnership later this year.

Meanwhile, Galvez said he affirmed with his Australian counterpart the need for both countries to work together toward the goal of maintaining a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific region.

“We also agreed to explore other possible areas of cooperation while reaffirming that counterterrorism and maritime security remain as core pillars of our nations’ bilateral defense cooperation,” Galvez said.

“The Philippines also reiterated its appreciation to Australia for its consistent support to the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal award, and at the same time, its continued support during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.

Image credits: Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP

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