Australia, Philippines discuss joint patrols in South China Sea

February 22, 2023 - 2:47 PM
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Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles attends a joint news conference with France's Foreign and Defence ministers at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris, France, January 30, 2023. (Reuters/Sarah Meyssonnier)

The Philippines and Australia on Wednesday discussed pursuing joint patrols in the South China Sea, days after the Southeast Asian country held similar talks with the United States to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the disputed waterway.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles met with his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez, in Manila, something they said they plan to do yearly in a bid to deepen the countries’ security ties.

“We did talk today about the possibility of exploring joint patrols and we will continue that work and we hope that comes to fruition soon,” Marles said at a joint news conference with Galvez after the meeting.

“As countries which are committed to the global rules-based order, it is natural that we should think about ways in which we can cooperate in this respect.”

With overlapping sovereign claims in the strategic waterway, the Philippines is ramping up its attempts 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 operation.

The possibility of the Philippines and Australia holding joint patrols comes on the heels of similar discussions between Manila and Washington about conducting joint coast guard patrols, including in the South China Sea.

READ: Philippines files protest to China over use of laser, ‘aggressive activities’ by vessels

Military ties between Australia and the Philippines date back to 1922, and the two nations have an existing Status of Visiting Forces Agreement that provides a comprehensive legal and operational framework for defense cooperation.

Ahead of his meeting with Marles, Galvez had a call with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin where they discussed the decision to resume their countries’ combined maritime activities in the South China Sea, according to a Pentagon statement released on Tuesday.

The two talked about “concerning developments” in the South China Sea, the statement said, including the Feb. 6 incident in which China’s Coast Guard directed a military-grade laser at the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel lawfully operating around Second Thomas Shoal.

China has said the Philippines’ account did not reflect the truth and that its actions were legal.

—Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies, Kanupriya Kapoor