Marcos Jr says Philippines, Australia joint patrols in South China Sea to enhance bilateral interoperability in maritime security

In this handout photo released by Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippines Navy warships BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS15) and BRP Jose Rizal (FF150) conduct tactical maneuvers with USS Gabriel Giffords (LCS 10), top, during an exercise between Philippines and the United States in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday Nov. 23, 2023. The United States and Philippines are conducting joint air and maritime patrols in the South China Sea, which come as the two countries step up cooperation in the face of growingly aggressive Chinese activity in the area. - (Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP)

MANILA: The Philippines and Australia kicked off their first joint maritime patrols on Saturday, days after the South-East Asian nation concluded a similar activity with the US in the South China Sea amid heightened tensions with Beijing over the contested waters.

"We endeavour to enhance bilateral interoperability in maritime security and domain awareness,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, as he announced the joint effort by Philippine military and Australia’s defense forces.

The activity will run through Monday and will be conducted within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, according to a joint statement from the Philippines’ and Australia’s defense chiefs. China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including areas the Philippines says are part of its zone.

"Australia and the Philippines are firmly committed to a peaceful, secure and prosperous region, where sovereignty and agreed rules and norms are respected,” Australia’s Defense Minister Richard Marles said.

The Philippines and the US resumed joint patrols this week that began near the Philippines’ northernmost Batanes province that is close to Taiwan and ended in the South China Sea. Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. has said more joint patrols may happen in the future.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Manila in September and agreed with Marcos to elevate the countries’ relationship to a strategic partnership as both called for respect of international law in the South China Sea.

Marcos said on Saturday that the joint patrols show the two nations’ "shared commitment to supporting the rules-based international order and a more peaceful, secure, and stable Indo-Pacific region.”

Australia is the only country besides the US with whom the Philippines has a Visiting Forces Agreement. The two nations have been strengthening ties this year, holding military drills near the South China Sea in August. - Bloomberg.

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