Philippines and Australia start sea, air patrols in South China Sea
MANILA — The Philippines and Australia began their first joint sea and air patrols in the South China Sea on Saturday, days after Manila took similar steps with the U.S. as Pacific nations warily eye an increasingly assertive China.
The three-day exercises, announced by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on social media, follow discussions by the Philippines and Australia early this year on joint patrols to underscore what they say is their commitment to a rules-based order.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis.
The Philippines is ramping up efforts to counter what it describes as China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea, which has also become a flashpoint for Chinese and U.S. tensions around naval operations.
“Australia and the Philippines are firmly committed to peaceful, secure and prosperous region, where sovereignty and agreed rules and norms are respected,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said in a joint statement posted by Marcos.
“The first joint patrol between the Australian Defence Force and the Armed Forces of the Philippines demonstrates this commitment,” Marles said.
The patrols will be carried out in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), said Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong, using Manila’s term for waters in the South China Sea that fall within its exclusive economic zone.
To be utilized in this exercise are Philippine Navy assets BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Davao del Sur, as well as five Philippine Air Force surveillance aircraft.
On the other hand, Australia will also deploy its Navy Frigate HMAS Toowoomba, and its Air Force’s surveillance aircraft Boeing’s P8-A Poseidon.
“The Maritime Cooperative Activity highlights our shared commitment to exercising freedom of navigation and overflight consistent with international law, in support of a peaceful, secure, and stable Indo-Pacific,” said the joint statement of DND Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and Marles.
“This inaugural Maritime Cooperative Activity and those that may follow are a practical manifestation of the growing and deepening strategic and defense partnership between our countries,” Marcos said on X, the platform formerly called Twitter.
In August, both countries conducted their first-ever amphibious bilateral drills between the two countries dubbed as “Alon” exercise.
The “Alon” drills were held in Palawan and Zambales, located in the western section of the country facing the WPS.
Meanwhile, the Philippines and the United States concluded three-day joint sea and air patrols on Thursday, starting in waters near Taiwan, a democratically governed island that China claims as its own, and ending in the WPS.
China has accused the Philippines of enlisting “foreign forces” to patrol the South China Sea and stirring up trouble. Manila insists the maritime activities are within its rights. With reports from John Eric Mendoza, INQUIRER.net