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Philippines backs Australia-UK-US security alliance

The Philippines on Tuesday backed the enhanced security alliance forged by Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States as the region confronts China’s growing influence, particularly in the disputed South China Sea, which Beijing claims nearly in its entirety.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. specifically noted the benefits of Australia’s decision to join the trilateral pact that will further enhance its military capability, saying its proximity in Southeast Asia would allow it to respond quickly to regional threats and challenges.

“Proximity breeds brevity in response time; thereby enhancing an ASEAN near friend and ally’s military capacity to respond in timely and commensurate fashion to a threat to the region or a challenge to the status quo,” Locsin said in a statement.  

Australia’s strong regional presence, Locsin said, is crucial in addressing the “imbalance in the forces available” to members of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

“ASEAN member states, singly and collectively, do not possess the military wherewithal to maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia, discourage the sudden creation of crises therein, and avoid disproportionate and hasty responses by rival great powers,” he said. “Preventive diplomacy and the rule of law do not stand alone in the maintenance of peace and security.”

China decried the security alliance by AUKUS, an abbreviation of the three participating countries, accusing it of stoking regional tensions and arms race. Even before the AUKUS pact was announced, China had been fortifying and expanding its military bases in disputed South China Sea territories and harassing other countries’ civilian and military vessels, drawing repeated protests from its weaker and smaller neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam.  

Competing claims by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan to the South China Sea, a strategic waterway sitting atop huge gas and oil deposits, have sparked occasional violence and now regarded as a potential regional flashpoint for armed conflict. 

Although the US is not a party to the disputes, it has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation, trade and peace and stability in the South China Sea, where a bulk of the world’s trade pass.

Australia and the UK have also expressed serious concerns on China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea.

While acutely aware of great power dynamics, Locsin said the Philippines “aspires for the South China Sea to remain a sea of peace, security, stability, and prosperity.”

“There is an imbalance in the forces available to the ASEAN member states, with the main balancer more than half a world away,” said Locsin in reference to the US. “This requires enhancing Australia’s ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration.” 

“The enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it,” he added.

He said the Philippines believes that “the fresh enhancement of Australia’s military capacity through this trilateral security partnership would be beneficial in the long term even to the other side if only for the additional time it affords all protagonists for reflection before reacting.” 

“Despite advances in military science, time and distance, and the concomitant stopping power of water, remain major constants in determining security capacity to respond appropriately to threats,” Locsin said.

AUKUS did not refer to China when they announced their security partnership, but analysts and observers believe it is intended to counter Beijing’s clout and control in the region.

The tripartite alliance will arm Australia with a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with greater range and more superior technology than the $65-billion deal it scrapped with France in favor of the new military agreement.

“Australia’s actions reflect its concerns about this geographic imbalance and its desire to help maintain regional peace and security. That is its prerogative,” Locsin said.

Locsin also said he cannot say for now if Australia will violate  the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty without the actual presence of nuclear weapons.

However, he said the Philippines is open to discussing this with other governments.

“We appreciate Australia’s continued and absolute commitment to meeting its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to the highest standards of nuclear stewardship,” he said.

“The dynamics and wide geographic reach of the Indo-Pacific require multilateral groupings that are flexible and adaptable, in membership, strategic aims and the appropriate wherewithal to respond to changes in the regional military balance.”

Locsin said the Philippines values Australia’s commitment to the primacy of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN-led mechanisms.

au“None of these mechanisms are compromised, weakened or in conflict with the enhancement of Australia’s ability to respond; quite the contrary,” he said. —KG, GMA News