On Saturday, the Philippines and Australia launched their first-ever joint air and sea patrols in the South China Sea, only days after Manila took similar actions with the United States, as Pacific nations remain wary of an increasingly powerful China.
The three-day exercises, announced on social media by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, came after talks between the Philippines and Australia earlier this year about combined patrols demonstrating their commitment to a rules-based system.
China claims the South China Sea serves as a conduit for over $3 trillion in yearly ship-borne trade, including areas claimed by the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration reportedly ruled that the Chinese claims lacked legal foundation.
The Philippines is stepping up attempts to resist China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea, which has also become a hotspot for tensions between China and the United States over naval operations.
The Philippines and Australia are dedicated to a peaceful and prosperous area where sovereignty and accepted laws and standards are maintained, according to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles in a joint statement released by Marcos.
Per Marles, the first joint patrol between the Australian Defence Force and the Armed Forces of the Philippines underlines this commitment.
The patrols will take place in the West Philippine Sea, according to Philippine Department of National Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong, referring to waterways in the South China Sea within Manila’s exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine military announced the participation of two navy vessels and five surveillance aircraft, while Australia will send the frigate Toowoomba and the P8-A maritime surveillance aircraft.
Marcos stated during the event that this initial Maritime Cooperative Activity and those that are likely to follow are a pragmatic manifestation of the developing and strengthening strategic and defence collaboration between the countries.
On Thursday, the Philippines and the US conducted a three-day joint maritime and air patrol in waters close to Taiwan, a democratically controlled island claimed by China, and ended in the West Philippine maritime.
China has accused the Philippines of using “foreign forces” to monitor the South China Sea and causing havoc. Manila maintains that its maritime activities are legal.
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