PH, Australia to enhance maritime security ties amid S. China Sea tensions

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard participate during a training on navigation, small boat operations, maintenance and logistical operations in the West Philippine Sea in Palawan on April 24, 2021. Philippine Coast Guard, Handout/File

MANILA – The Philippines and Australia have agreed to enhance partnership on civil maritime security amid tensions in the disputed South China Sea as the two countries marked 75 years of diplomatic ties this week. Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steve Robinson said they would be working with the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police Maritime Group and the Department of National Defense to “bolster the Philippines’ maritime security.” “Because we all recognized that cross-border security is the best way to look after security of our countries, so Australia is going to cooperate extensively with the Philippines over the next 3 years,” he told ANC’s “Headstart”.

Amid tensions between the Philippines and China over the disputed waters, Robinson called on countries to subscribe to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international treaty that provides a regulatory framework for the use of the world’s seas and oceans. “Whether it would be the South China Sea, the West Philippine Sea or any international waters, what we essentially say is that there are rules and norms in which all countries should operate, particularly centered around the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he said. “We believed that’s quite fundamental and if countries adhere to that, we will all be able to utilize the international waterway in a free and unimpeded way.

What we want is freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight and unimpeded trade.” Robinson also bared in the interview that the DND and the Philippine Navy were negotiating with Australian global shipbuilder Austal, which has a base in Balamban, Cebu, for the procurement of 6 offshore patrol vessels.

The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in near entirety by demarcating a so-called 9-dash line. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of Manila and junked Beijing’s claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea.

But Beijing, which continues to ignore the landmark ruling, has been accused of militarizing the marine resources- and energy-rich waters, a major international trade route.

Most recently, several of its ships have been lingering within the West Philippine Sea, prompting the Philippines to file a flurry of diplomatic protests. 

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pursued friendly ties with China in exchange for investments and infrastructure funding, has called the UN ruling a mere piece of paper that belongs to the waste bin. 

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