April 13, 2023
MANILA — The United States and the Philippines on Wednesday bared their plans to conduct maritime activities, including joint patrols, with “like-minded partners” in the South China Sea later this year.
This was among the points discussed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, and Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. during a “2+2” ministerial dialogue in Washington on Tuesday.
The top defense and foreign officials from the two longtime allies vowed to “finalize plans for the resumption of combined maritime activities, including the conduct of joint sails by the U.S. and Philippine navies, in the South China Sea.”
“Both sides also discussed plans to conduct multilateral maritime activities with other like-minded partners in the South China Sea later this year,” said a joint statement from the US and the Philippines released Wednesday.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez had earlier mentioned that Japan and Australia are likely to join the joint patrols in the contested waterway.
The move to conduct multilateral maritime activities in the South China Sea is seen to irk Beijing, which has staked territorial claims over nearly the entire sea, including the West Philippine Sea — waters within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Other defense, security agreements
The US and the Philippines have committed to improving bilateral planning and interoperability in dealing with crises and scenarios “through the conduct of high-impact and high-value joint exercises, training, and other activities, as well as by fast-tracking ongoing discussions on new US-Philippine Bilateral Defense Guidelines.”
The two countries on Tuesday kicked off their largest-ever joint military exercises, which will involve more than 17,000 Filipino and American troops.
Aside from this, they also recently expanded their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) by adding four additional military bases in the Philippines which will be made accessible to US forces.
Other security and defense matters that the US and the Philippines have committed to include:
- Prioritizing modernizing shared defense capabilities, especially in the maritime domain
- Adopting a Security Sector Assistance Roadmap in the next months to guide shared defense modernization investments and inform the delivery of priority platforms in the coming five to 10 years
- Fast-tracking discussions on an acquisition plan for a fleet of multi-role fighter aircraft for the Philippine Air Force, as well as leveraging an additional $100 million in Foreign Military Financing that the US earlier announced to acquire medium-lift helicopters
- Accelerating implementation of Edca projects and increasing infrastructure investments in the five existing and four new Edca sites
- Boosting community-based activities of the US Agency for International Development
- Expanding information network on main challenges that hound the US-Philippine alliance before year-end
- Improving cooperation, exchanging best practices and boosting strategic convergence on counterterrorism, and dealing with gray zone challenges
- Continuing collaborative discussions on advancing the protection of human rights in the security sector
- Promoting respect for a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world
Addressing economic and environmental challenges through bilateral ties and partnership with “like-minded” nations, as well as further developing people-to-people ties between Filipinos and Americans, were also tackled in the long-anticipated “2+2” ministerial dialogue