Australia joining patrols in West Philippine Sea is ‘showing up for your friends’: Expert

Manila and Canberra are in discussions on holding joint patrols in the contested waters, following concerns over Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the area.

Frances Mangosing

Frances Mangosing

Philippine Daily Inquirer


Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles (center right) talks to Australian soldiers during the Philippine-Australia Army-to-Army exercise being held inside a military camp in Cotabato City in Mindanao on Feb. 23, 2023. (Photo by FERDINAND CABRERA / Agence France-Presse)

March 14, 2023

SYDNEY — Against the backdrop of maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Australia’s participation in joint patrols with the Philippines in the disputed waters will display the importance of standing by a nation’s partners.

“Showing up for your friends is important; moreover, demonstrating cooperation and interoperability sends a signal to adversaries that our partnerships have substance, and we cannot be picked off one by one,” Justine Burke, a visiting scholar at Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, told the Inquirer.

“Joint naval patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) between Australia and the Philippines are a really meaningful way to assert our common interests and values,” he pointed out.

Manila and Canberra are in discussions on holding joint patrols in the contested waters, the defense ministers of both countries announced last month, following concerns over Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the area. The talks followed similar discussions earlier between the Philippines and the United States.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyong Yu recently confirmed that there were also talks on group patrols between the Philippines, Australia, the United States, and Japan. Washington is working to strengthen its defense ties with allies in the region to counter Beijing’s growing influence.

Australia was one of the first countries to recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling which favored the Philippines’ rights over its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

The two countries would build upon previous patrols with Australia in Mindanao which focused on piracy and terrorism, acting Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said last month.

Manila and Canberra have worked together more closely on counterterrorism after the Marawi siege, a five-month conflict between soldiers and pro-Islamic State militants in 2017, with Australia deploying its surveillance planes for intelligence gathering.

Australia is the only other country that has a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines aside from the United States.

Meanwhile, the Australian government on Monday turned over its donation of a close air support trainer classroom and debriefing facility to the Philippine Air Force’s 710th Special Operations Wing at Col. Ernesto Ravina Air Base in Capas, Tarlac.

“With this facility, the Philippine Air Force will be able to address the technical training gaps of its personnel who will be given more time and training opportunities such as the use of simulators and actual flight events,” said Defense Undersecretary Angelito de Leon.

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