Canada is the latest country to conduct joint maritime activities with the Philippines in the South China Sea amid Manila’s renewed focus on countering China in its regional waters.
Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341) and Philippine Navy frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) rendezvoused off Western Palawan on Thursday morning. Ottawa, along with the Naval Replenishment Unit MV Asterix, previously made a stop at Naval Operating Base Subic and exercised with BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) in divisional tactics and replenishment at sea.
“The joint sail is part of the Philippine Navy’s regular engagements with its partners in the Philippines’ maritime zones,” said Lieutenant Colonel Enrico Gil Ileto in an Armed Forces of the Philippines press release on the exercise.
For three hours the two frigates performed joint maneuvers in the West Philippine Sea, which denotes the area of the South China Sea that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. However, even after a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines, China persists in enforcing its South China Sea claims with maritime forces and continues to hold military and economic activities. Within the West Philippine Sea, China has developed several artificial islands that host military bases with ports and air bases. Beijing claims most of the region under its nine-dash line, which was expanded to ten last month. People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia and China Coast Guard vessels regularly operate in the West Philippine Sea and are frequently seen shadowing or harassing Philippine vessels.
With a renewed focus in Manila on countering Chinese actions, talks of joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea have been discussed since the beginning of the year. The Philippines’ top partners, such as the United States, Japan, and Australia, have stated their intent to or interest in holding these activities with Manila going forward. USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) and Philippine Navy flagship Jose Rizal held a joint bilateral sail in the West Philippine Sea off Palawan on Sept. 4. The divisional tactics training is one of the preparations being made for the joint patrol the two countries committed to hold before the end of the year. Australia also pledged to hold joint patrols with the Philippines during Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s official state visit to that nation earlier in the month.
Malaysia, France, India and Singapore have also expressed their wish to conduct joint patrols with the Philippines.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada Mélanie Joly called China an “increasingly disruptive power” that wanted to “change international norms to its favor.” Joly also highlighted ways Canada could support the Philippines in enhancing its maritime domain awareness.
Ottawa’s joint sail with the Philippine Navy is part of a larger strategy being Canada is employing across the Indo-Pacific through Operation Horizon. Replacing Operation Projection, this new Canadian Armed Forces effort aims to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific by showing Canadian presence in the region. The Royal Canadian Navy also plans to deploy an additional frigate to the region annually.