Manila, 22 Feb (EFE).- Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Richard Marles, said Wednesday that Australia is “looking at ways” to pursue joint patrols in Philippine territories in the South China Sea.
“As countries which are committed to the global rules-based order, it is natural that we should think about ways in which we can cooperate in this respect,” Marles said during a joint press conference in Manila with Philippine Secretary of National Defense, Carlito Galvez.
“We did talk today about the possibility of exploring joint patrols and we will continue that work, and we hope that that comes to fruition soon,” Marles added.
The announcement comes amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Manila after repeated intrusion of Chinese ships in the Spratly Islands, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone – less than 200 nautical miles from its western coast.
China claims the islands as an inseparable part of its territory due to historical reasons.
Last week, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned the Chinese ambassador following a complaint by the Philippine Coast Guard about China’s use of a military grade laser on one of its ships in the South China Sea.
The incident took place on Feb. 6, four days after the United States – Australia’s ally in the region – and the Philippines signed an agreement granting US troops access to four new military bases in strategic areas in the Asian country, which China claims contributes towards increasing tension in the region.
The Philippine Coast Guard admitted Monday to having advanced conversations with the US to pursue joint patrol in the waters disputed with China, something that would escalate tensions even further.
China and the Philippines are embroiled in a sovereignty dispute over several islands and atolls in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in its entirety.
China is also involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.
Meanwhile, the US and its allies in the region seek to counter China’s movements in these waters, important for global trade and rich in natural resources, amid the race to widen their influence in the Pacific. EFE