In a significant development signaling a strengthened commitment to regional security, Australia and the Philippines have officially upgraded their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership. The announcement came during Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s historic visit to Manila, marking the first visit by an Australian leader to the Philippines in two decades.
During the visit, Prime Minister Albanese and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. sealed the strategic partnership agreement. The move underscores the growing importance of cooperation between the two nations in the face of mounting security challenges in the region, particularly concerning territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Joint Efforts to Uphold Sovereignty
In a joint press conference held after their bilateral talks, Prime Minister Albanese emphasized Australia’s commitment to shaping a region where sovereignty is upheld. He stated, “Australia is working with our partners, including the Philippines, to shape a region where sovereignty is upheld.” This statement underscores Australia’s dedication to supporting its regional allies and promoting stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
President Marcos expressed the significance of the close ties between the two nations, describing them as “terribly important.” The Philippines and Australia have been steadily strengthening their defense and security cooperation, particularly in the maritime domain.
Military Exercises and Status of Visiting Forces Agreement
Last month, the Philippines conducted joint military exercises near the South China Sea, underscoring their commitment to regional security and cooperation. Australia, as the Philippines’ second-largest partner in defense security, played a vital role in these exercises. Furthermore, the Philippines and Australia have a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement, a significant arrangement that permits the two nations to engage in joint exercises, high-level visits, dialogues, and exchanges. Discussions have also been initiated regarding potential joint navy patrols in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Prime Minister Albanese reiterated Australia’s endorsement of the 2016 arbitral ruling regarding the South China Sea, which nullified China’s extensive territorial assertions in this strategically vital region. The South China Sea is a critical maritime route where approximately $3 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes each year. Albanese emphasized the importance of upholding the 2016 ruling, stating, “Australia supports the 2016 South China Sea arbitral award. That is final and binding. And it is important that it be upheld going forward.”
The South China Sea remains a contentious area, with multiple countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan, asserting their territorial claims in various parts of the region. Given the economic significance of the South China Sea, it is also crucial for Australia, as most of its trade passes through these waters.
Prospects of Diplomatic Engagement with China
In a noteworthy development, Prime Minister Albanese confirmed that he plans to visit China later this year. This will mark the first visit by an Australian leader to China since 2016. The announcement reflects Australia’s intent to engage diplomatically with China despite regional tensions, underlining the importance of maintaining open channels of communication and cooperation with all regional stakeholders.
In conclusion, the elevation of bilateral ties to a strategic partnership between Australia and the Philippines represents a significant step forward in regional security cooperation. It highlights the commitment of both nations to upholding sovereignty, promoting stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and addressing the complex issues surrounding the South China Sea. As the geopolitical landscape in the region continues to evolve, such partnerships will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of Asia-Pacific security and diplomacy.