MANILA — The Australian government will provide the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) with drone equipment and training to help boost its maritime capabilities amid heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea, an official said Thursday.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong made this announcement after a meeting with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, noting that Australia and the Philippines are “like-minded partners” seeking a safe, stable, and prosperous Southeast Asian region.
Wong said she also met with PCG officials on Wednesday.
“We want a region that is predictable, that operates by standards and laws in which sovereignty is respected. We want to work with the Philippines to support ASEAN’s vital contribution to regional peace and security, including maritime cooperation,” Wong said.
“We discussed today the ways in which we would enhance our cooperation. This includes Australia providing drone equipment, training and other technology to strengthen your coast guard’s maritime domain awareness and protection capabilities,” the Australian foreign minister said.
Australia also expressed openness to participate in joint patrols with the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, and to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight on the disputed waters.
Wong said that Australia is committed to continue its longstanding presence in the region, and that it considers the Philippines as an important security partner.
Planning, she noted, was underway to further the joint military training between the two countries.
“We are committed to continuing Australia’s longstanding presence in the region, including in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. We are open to cooperating with all our partners to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight, and the Philippines is a longstanding, important security partner for us,” Wong said.
The official recalled the visit of Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Richard Marles in February this year, which tackled increased cooperation and maritime activity.
Australia’s various agencies, she said, “are discussing the best pathway to take this forward, and we want to keep working with the Philippines on that.”
“In relation to joint military training, we have a longstanding defense cooperation arrangement, planning is already underway for further joint training activity. As we speak, our defense forces are conducting a joint military exercise called Kasangga,” she added.
Wong, meanwhile, said Australia is interested in working with the Philippines and other “strategic partners.”
“We all want peace. We all want stability… We wanna hope to be one soon with the Philippines,” she said.
“We want to work with ASEAN, respecting ASEAN centrality as the center of such a region, and obviously we will continue to work with our partner, the United States. What we are looking at is what are the ways in which we can do that,” she added.
For his part, Manalo said the Philippines was still considering prospects of trilateral cooperation with Australia, Japan, and the United States.
“Yes, there are trilateral modes of cooperation certainly under consideration. We look forward to discussing with Australia, and our other partner, Japan and even with perhaps United States on possible modes of cooperation,” Manalo said.
Aside from this, the two officials also tackled bilateral cooperation on trade and investments, agriculture, maritime partnership, as well as countering terrorism and transnational crimes.