SYDNEY (Reuters) — Australia has a security interest in the South China Sea and will work more closely with the Philippines on joint patrols, Australia’s defense minister, Richard Marles, said on Friday as he observed military exercises.
More than 2,000 Australian and Philippine defense personnel are participating in amphibious landing and air assault drills, with two Australian navy vessels, the HMAS Canberra and HMAS ANZAC, conducting bilateral exercises with the Philippine Navy.
The joint exercises, a first for the two nations, come amid renewed tensions between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea.
Marles said in comments to ABC radio that there is a “very significantly growing defense relationship between our two countries” and that Australia wants more patrols alongside the Philippine Navy.
Most of Australia’s trade goes through the South China Sea, and upholding international rules is a shared strategic interest with the Philippines, he said.
“A whole lot of damage can be done to Australia before any potential adversary sets foot on our shores, and maintaining the rules-based order in Southeast Asia, maintaining the collective security of Southeast Asia, is fundamental to maintaining the national security of our country,” he said.
Australia, Japan and the Philippines conducted a joint patrol last week, although a U.S. Navy vessel did not take part as planned, he said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he will make the first visit by an Australian leader to the Philippines in 20 years next month to discuss defense cooperation.
In 2016, an international arbitration award invalidated China’s sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have claims to certain areas.
Source : NIKKEI Asia