Australia and the Philippines discuss joint patrols in the South China Sea

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines and Australia discussed joint patrols in the South China Sea on Wednesday, days after the Southeast Asian country held similar talks with the United States over the need to counter China’s assertiveness in the strategic waterway.

Australian Defense Secretary Richard Marles met with Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez in Manila, something they said they plan to do annually to deepen their security ties.

“We talked today about the possibility of exploring joint patrols and we will continue that work and we hope that will come to fruition soon,” Marles said at a joint news conference.

“As countries that are committed to the global rules-based order, we should of course think about how we can cooperate in this regard.”

With some overlapping naval claims, the Philippines is stepping up attempts to counter what it considers “aggressive activities” by China in the South China Sea, which have also become a flashpoint for China-US tensions over naval operations.

On Tuesday, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) aircraft flew over the South China Sea as part of efforts to increase its presence in contested waters and protect what it calls its marine territory.

In a statement, the PCG said it saw a Chinese Coast Guard vessel and dozens of boats believed to be manned by Chinese militias around the Second Thomas and Sabina Shoals, both of which are within the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

The PCG ordered the suspected militia to leave, telling them “they have no business loitering or swarming in these shallows”.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The possibility of the Philippines and Australia holding joint patrols follows similar talks between Manila and Washington about conducting joint Coast Guard patrols, including in the South China Sea.

Military relations between Australia and the Philippines date back to 1922, and the two nations have a Force Visiting Agreement that provides a legal and operational framework for defense activities.

Galvez had a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Tuesday where they discussed resuming combined maritime activities in the South China Sea, according to a Pentagon statement.

They discussed “worrying developments,” including an incident on February 6 in which the Chinese Coast Guard aimed a military laser at the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel around the Second Thomas Shoal.

China has said the Philippines’ portrayal does not reflect the truth and that its actions are legal.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies, Kanupriya Kapoor, Martin Petty)


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