Australia Continues Ramp up of Ties With Philippines

Australia Continues Ramp up of Ties With Philippines
A Philippine flag flutters next to navy ships anchored at the Philippine-occupied Thitu island in the disputed South China Sea, on April 21, 2023.(TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will look to continue ramping up ties with the Philippines with direct talks with the country's President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Sept. 8.

This follows the announcement in August that Australia would look to work more closely with the Philippines on defence and security-related issues.

"The Philippines is a critical nation for Australia's interest," Mr. Albanese said on Sept. 7.

"We have strong economic relations with the Philippines. We also have strong cooperation when it comes to defence arrangements, and in addition to that, we have a strong diaspora in Australia."

Mr. Albanese noted that he will be the first Australian prime minister in 20 years to hold formal bilateral talks with the Philippines' leader.

"I spoke with President Marcos last night and with Mrs. Marcos, and I was very pleased to have an informal discussion with them at the dinner that was held, hosted by [Indonesian] President Widodo last evening; he is very much looking forward to the visit," Mr. Albanese said.

Australia Looking To Elevate Ties to Strategic Partnership

The bilateral talks come just weeks after Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles announced Australia and the Philippines would work to elevate diplomatic ties to a strategic partnership level.
Speaking in Manila on Aug. 25, Mr. Marles said that both countries were very ambitious about "working more closely together, about building our high-end interoperability, about seeing our defence forces become closer."

"We are two countries committed to the global rules-based order. We are committed to an idea of a world in which disputes are determined by reference to international law," the deputy prime minister said.

"Peace is maintained through the protection of deployable rules-based order and its functionality around the world, and in truth, around the world today, we see it under pressure."

Mr. Marles said that he saw Australia's deepening defence ties with the Philippines as a pathway to upholding the rules-based order

"What we will do is bring our military capability to enhance the rules-based order and to provide for its expression," he said.

"And in that sense, what we are about is peace.  And so I think that message is as important now as it’s ever been."

China Tensions Create Impetus for Deepening Ties

The deepening military ties between the two nations come as the Philippines is experiencing an increasing ramp-up in tensions with Beijing over its attempt to claim Filippino territories in the South China Sea.

In August, the Philippino government condemned a Chinese coast guard ship’s “excessive and offensive” use of a water cannon to block a Filipino supply boat from delivering new troops, food, water, and fuel to the Second Thomas Shoal, a Philippine-occupied territory.

Beijing believes it has “indisputable sovereignty” over almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, as well as most of the islands within it.

This would include the Spratly Islands, an archipelago consisting of 100 islands and reefs that sit territorially within the waters of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

The confrontation is the latest flare-up between the two countries, which has seen the Chinese Coastguard vessel use military-grade lasers and other methods to deter Filipino naval ships from the disputed regions.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a Facebook post that the Chinese ship's actions were  “in wanton disregard of the safety of the people on board” and violated international law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The “excessive and offensive actions against Philippine vessels” near the shoal prevented one of two Filipino boats from unloading supplies needed by its troops guarding the shoal, the Filipino military said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

It called on the Chinese coast guard and Beijing's Central Military Commission “to act with prudence and be responsible in their actions to prevent miscalculations and accidents that will endanger people’s lives.”

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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