Philippines and Australia commence historic joint patrols in South China Sea

HMAS Toowoomba

25th November 2023 – (Manila) The Philippines and Australia initiated their inaugural joint sea and air patrols in the South China Sea on Saturday, a move coming soon after Manila launched similar operations with the U.S. The developments come as Pacific nations observe an increasingly proactive China with mounting apprehension.

The three-day military exercises were declared by the Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, on social media, marking the culmination of earlier discussions between the Philippines and Australia regarding collaborative patrols. The joint operations aim to symbolise both nations’ dedication to maintaining a rules-based order.

China lays claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, a vital artery for over $3 trillion of yearly maritime trade, despite parts of it being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration refuted the legality of China’s claims.

The Philippines is intensifying its efforts to resist what it characterises as China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea. The region has also emerged as a hotspot for tensions between China and the U.S. over naval operations.

“Australia and the Philippines are staunchly committed to a peaceful, secure, and prosperous region, where sovereignty is honoured and agreed rules and norms are respected,” stated Richard Marles, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, in a joint announcement shared by President Marcos.

He added, “The first joint patrol between the Australian Defence Force and the Armed Forces of the Philippines underscores this commitment.”

The joint patrols will take place in the West Philippine Sea, according to the Philippine Department of National Defense spokesperson, Arsenio Andolong, employing Manila’s label for the parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone.

The Philippine military will deploy two of its navy vessels and five surveillance aircraft for the operation. Australia will contribute the Toowoomba frigate and P8-A maritime surveillance aircraft.

“These inaugural Maritime Cooperative Activities, and any that might follow, are tangible demonstrations of the expanding and deepening strategic and defence partnership between our nations,” stated President Marcos on X, previously known as Twitter.

Earlier, the Philippines and the U.S. concluded their three-day joint sea and air patrols, initiated near Taiwan, a democratically governed island claimed by China, and concluding in the West Philippine Sea. China has accused the Philippines of inciting conflict by engaging “foreign forces” to patrol the South China Sea. Nevertheless, Manila maintains that such maritime activities are within its sovereign rights.