The Philippines concluded a series of joint maritime and aerial patrols with Australia in the South China Sea today, and plans to hold more patrols in the future with the U.S. and other allies, according to officials.
Manila and Canberra kicked off their inaugural Maritime Cooperative Activity, which ran from Nov. 25 to 27. A combined total of three warships and six aircraft from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Australian Defence Force were involved in joint patrols on the sea and in the air within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.
Philippine President Bong Bong Marcos stated that the joint patrols were a “practical manifestation of the growing and deepening strategic and defense partnership” with Australia, referring to Canberra as a “strategic partner” in his announcement of the patrols on Saturday.
“This highlights our shared commitment to supporting the rules-based international order and a more peaceful, secure, and stable Indo-Pacific region,” Marcos said.
Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro and Australian Minister for Defence Richard Marles highlighted how the joint patrols were a “practical implementation” of the Philippine-Australian strategic partnership that was declared during Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to Manila in September.
Both Teodoro and Marles reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas as well as their support for the 2016 arbitral award, which invalidated many of China’s claims to the South China Sea.
The Australian joint patrols come after the first joint patrols between the Philippines and the U.S. last week. Littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), replenishment oiler USNS John Erricson (T-AO-194) and a P-8A Poseidon held a series of patrols with corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39), offshore patrol vessel BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15) and Philippine Navy flagship the frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) in the West Philippine Sea from Nov. 21 to 23. Pacific Air Forces F-15Cs also conducted a joint aerial patrol with Philippine Air Force FA-50PHs in the Luzon Strait between the Philippines and Taiwan.
While no incidents occurred, the Philippine military reported that Chinese warships and aircraft shadowed the joint patrols. Chinese fighter jets “circled” Philippine aircraft during their joint patrol with the Royal Australian Air Force near Hubo Reef over the weekend. AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner specified that the Chinese fighter jets only “shadowed” Philippine aircraft, not Australian. A Chinese frigate and maritime patrol aircraft also shadowed Philippine and U.S. ships during last week’s joint patrol.
China has condemned the Philippine-U.S. joint patrols, with a People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Command press release claiming that the Philippines is “colluding with the external force to stir up troubles in the South China Sea.” The press release also states that the joint patrols violate “the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”
Teodoro blasted these claims with a rebuke against China.
“Who is the one occupying? Who is the one encroaching in the South China Sea, in the West Philippine Sea? It is China, the Philippines is not stirring up trouble. This is a reverse of the truth. It’s an absolute falsity for China to say that and it is once again reversing the truth consistent with its narrative,” Teodoro said.
Teodoro further added that there are plans for “several iterations” of joint patrols with the U.S. and that the Philippines has the right to “patrol anywhere, whether in the high seas or in the area where it has jurisdiction pursuant to international law.”
Brawner has also raised the likelihood of multilateral joint patrols in the South China Sea by next year.