MANILA — The Philippines and France agreed on Saturday to ramp up military ties, including possible negotiations to allow soldiers from each country into the other’s territory.
French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu and his Philippine counterpart Gilberto Teodoro signed a letter of intent in Manila to boost bilateral defense cooperation.
“We intend to take concrete steps to levelling up and making more comprehensive our defense cooperation,” Teodoro told a joint press conference. That includes seeking authority from their leaders to negotiate a status of visiting forces agreement, he said.
The Philippines has such agreements with the United States and Australia, and recently initiated talks with Japan for a reciprocal access agreement.
Lecornu’s visit is the first leg of his trip across the Indo-Pacific, with stops in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, as well as Malaysia.
“We are working on an agenda of strengthening our presence in the Indo-Pacific,” Lecornu said.
France considers itself an Indo-Pacific power, with over 7,000 troops stationed in overseas territories in the Pacific and Indian Ocean.
The Philippines has been ramping up military ties with several countries in a bid to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, where the two countries have a longstanding maritime dispute.
Manila’s claims are backed by a 2016 international tribunal’s ruling which rejected China’s claims to almost all the South China Sea, where several other countries also assert claims.
— Reporting by Mikhail Flores; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Edwina Gibbs and William Mallard