The Philippines is in talks to possibly include Australia and Japan in planned joint South China Sea patrols with the US, a senior diplomat said on Monday, in another sign of concern over Beijing’s activities in the strategic waters.
“Meetings have already been set and probably we may have the Japanese and the Australians join in,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said.
“They would like to join in for joint patrols to make sure that there’s the code of conduct and there’s freedom of navigation,” he said, adding that it was still “an idea under discussion.”
If the plan materializes, it would be the first time the Philippines has joined multilateral maritime patrols in the South China Sea, a move that would likely anger Beijing, which claims most of the sea as its territory.
The patrol talks and renewed engagement with the US underscore how much Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has realigned his nation with its historic ally, moving away from former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s hostile approach to Washington, while still pursuing close economic engagement with regional powerhouse China.
Australia and the US have separately been discussing joint patrols with the Philippines, amid concerns about China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, through which about US$3.4 trillion of commerce passes each year.
The US, Japan and Australia have been conducting trilateral naval exercises, and joint patrols with those nations would be “good for the Philippines and for the entire area,” Romualdez said.
“We want to have freedom of navigation,” he said.
The patrols “could be initially country-to-country” and expanded eventually “because these are our allies, like-minded countries,” he added.