PBBM: Aussie official’s visit ‘important part of response’ to Chinese acts

The Philippines and Australia confirmed Wednesday they are discussing possible joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS)—an arrangement that Manila is also exploring with the United States and Japan.

SHARED SECURITY CONCERN. Australia Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles (left) and Philippine Secretary of Defense Carlito Galvez Jr attend a joint press conference at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on February 22, 2023 where they announced both countries are exploring the possibility of joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea. AFP


President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the visit of Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles “‘will be an important part of the response’ to the recent acts by the Chinese Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea,” the Presidential Communications Office said in a statement.

Mr. Marcos added the Australian official’s visit will “form a stronger alliance with the Philippines’ Indo-Pacific neighbor.”

“I truly believe that the future lies in strong alliances and in a united front in promoting again the values that we consider important to our countries,” the President said, as quoted by the PCO

In an earlier joint press briefing with Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. in Manila, Marles said he hoped the joint patrol talks would come “to fruition soon.”

“(We are) 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,” said Marles, who also serves as Australia’s defense minister.

Marles said Australia is sending one of its largest contingents ever to this year’s iteration of “Exercise Balikatan,” which will take place in April.

“And we look forward to the Philippines, for the first time, sending observers to Exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia in August,” he added.

Marles also said Australia and the Philippines have a greater strategic alignment than they had at any moment in their respective histories.

“Both countries are allies of the United States, both countries have China as our largest trading partner. Both the Philippines and Australia are completely committed to a global rules-based order,” he added.

This affirmation, Marles said, is “deeply connected to the two nations’ respective national interests that the rules of the road as they apply to a body of water such as the South China Sea, the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, the freedom of navigation (and) the freedom of overflight.”

“All of these principles are completely central to our national interests, and to our collective security,” he added.

Galvez said Marles’ visit demonstrated the steadfast commitment of the Australian and the Philippine governments to further deepen the bilateral defense relations between the two nations.

The latest announcement comes amid growing tensions between the Philippines and China over their territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

Earlier this month, the Philippine Coast Guard said a Chinese Coast Guard vessel aimed a military-grade laser at one of its ships on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, which the Philippines occupies.

The United States, Canada, Australia and Japan all issued statements denouncing the Chinese action.

Also on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III spoke with Galvez to discuss concerning developments” in the South China Sea.

In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said among the topics tackled was the Feb. 6 incident in Ayungin Shoal where the Chinese coast guard pointed a military grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.

“Secretary Austin underscored the United States’ commitment to supporting the lawful rights and operations of the Philippines in the South China Sea, including around the Second Thomas Shoal, which the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal unequivocally ruled is a part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone,” Ryder said.

The US refers to the Ayungin Shoal as Second Thomas Shoal, an atoll located some 100 nautical miles off Palawan and is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

According to Ryder, Austin “reiterated that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, aircraft, and public vessels, including those of its Coast Guard, anywhere in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Austin also emphasized to Galvez the US’ commitment to “supporting the lawful rights and operations” of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, including Ayungin Shoal.

In July 2016, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, based on a case filed by the Philippines, invalidated China’s expansive nine-dash line claim covering the entire South China Sea.

The arbitration court also ruled that Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank are all within the Philippines’ EEZ as provided by the UNCLOS and outlawed China’s action of preventing Filipino fishermen to access Scarborough (Panatag)

Shoal. But Beijing refused to acknowledge the arbitral court’s ruling.

China earlier denied pointing at military grade laser at the Philippine Coast Guard vessel, which Beijing accused of intrusion.

This prompted the Philippines to file a diplomatic protest against China following the laser-pointing incident.

The US official also said Austin and Galvez also discussed proposals to deepen operational cooperation and improve the US and the Philippines’ shared security, including joint maritime activities in the South China Sea.

Austin reaffirmed the US Defense commitment to bolstering the Philippines’ defense capabilities and capacity to “resist coercion as the allies develop a Security Sector Assistance Roadmap.”

They also discussed opportunities to expand security cooperation with like-minded nations like Japan that seek to uphold the rules-based international order and with a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.