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Australia and the Philippines discuss joint patrols in the South China Sea

Australia and the Philippines discuss joint patrols in the South China Sea
  • Defense leaders plan annual meetings
  • Philippines asks suspected Chinese militia to leave
  • The United States and the Philippines discuss “disturbing developments”

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines and Australia on Wednesday discussed pursuing joint patrols in the South China Sea, days after the Southeast Asian country held similar talks with the United States about the need to counter China’s assertiveness in the strategic waterway.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marless met his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez, in Manila, something they said they plan to do annually to deepen security ties.

“We talked today about the possibility of exploring joint patrols, and we will continue this work, and we hope it will bear fruit soon,” Marlis said in a joint press conference.

“As countries committed to the rules-based global order, it is only natural that we think about ways we can cooperate in this regard.”

With some overlapping maritime claims, the Philippines is stepping up its attempts to counter what it describes as China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea, which has also become a flashpoint for Chinese and US tensions over naval operations.

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On Tuesday, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) aircraft flew over the South China Sea, as part of efforts to strengthen its presence in the disputed waters and protect what it says is its maritime territory.

In a statement, the PCG said it had sighted a Chinese coast guard vessel and dozens of what it suspects are boats operated by Chinese militia around Second Thomas and Sabina Shoals, both located within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

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The PCG ordered the suspected militia to leave, telling them they were “not authorized to loiter or muster these shoals”.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The possibility of the Philippines and Australia conducting joint patrols follows similar discussions between Manila and Washington about joint coast guard patrols, including in the South China Sea.

Military relations between Australia and the Philippines date back to 1922, and the two countries have a Visiting Forces Agreement that provides a legal and practical framework for defense activities.

On Tuesday, Galvez held a phone call with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as they discussed resuming joint maritime activities in the South China Sea, according to a statement from the Pentagon.

They spoke of “alarming developments” including the incident on February 6 where the Chinese coast guard pointed a military-grade laser at the crew of a Philippine coast guard ship around the Second Thomas Shoal.

China said the Philippines’ account did not reflect the truth and that its actions were lawful.

(Reporting on Karen Lima; Editing by Ed Davies, Kanupriya Kapoor, Martin Beatty

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