The Philippines and Australia confirmed holding talks on possible joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) – a partnership which Manila is also discussing with the United States.
According to CNN Philippines, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles announced the possibility during a joint press briefing with Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. in Manila on Wednesday.
“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, who concurrently serves as Australia’s minister for defense, told reporters.
According to Galvez, the two countries had already held joint maritime patrols in the past, particularly in the Celebes Sea and the Sulu Sea.
Discussions on the joint exercises are set against the backdrop of increasing tensions with China over the resource-rich WPS.
Over the weekend, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Beijing’s harassment of Manila in the disputed area continues on a “daily” basis.
Just earlier this month, a Chinese vessel also pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard ship near Ayungin Shoal, temporarily blinding crew members and disrupting its resupply mission.
Australia was among the nations that expressed support for the Philippines, calling China’s conduct “unsafe and intimidatory.”
Marles said exploring joint patrols is one of the ways in which Australia and the Philippines can help ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, on the same day, Galvez virtually met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III to talk about developments in the contested waters, including the recent laser incident with China.
“The two leaders discussed proposals to deepen operational cooperation and enhance the United States and the Philippines” shared security, including the recent decision to resume combined maritime activities in the South China Sea,” the US Department of State wrote in a statement.