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US and Philippines Enhance Maritime Cooperation Amid South China Sea Tensions

In a significant diplomatic development, the United States and the Philippines have intensified discussions on bolstering combined maritime activities and joint patrols to support the Philippines’ lawful exercise of its rights in the South China Sea. The US Department of Defense issued a statement detailing the outcomes of discussions between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and Philippine President Marcos, reiterating the commitment to deepening bilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. 

According to the readout, Austin and Marcos explored avenues to enhance bilateral planning and operational cooperation, focusing on increasing the frequency of joint maritime activities and patrols. The leaders also pledged to accelerate various bilateral initiatives to enhance information-sharing, interoperability, and capability enhancements for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

A notable highlight of their discussion was the commendation of the recent maritime cooperative activity within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, a joint effort involving Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the US. This initiative exemplifies the collaborative efforts of like-minded nations to uphold shared principles, including the rule of law, freedom of the seas, and respect for territorial sovereignty.

Austin reiterated US support for the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction, reaffirming the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty to both countries’ armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft in the Pacific, including the South China Sea.

The meeting at the Pentagon underscored the enduring strength of the US-Philippines alliance, a crucial partnership in the context of the Indo-Pacific region. Both leaders expressed their commitment to expanding and modernizing cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. They emphasized growing alliance initiatives to enhance interoperability and highlighted US support for Philippine military modernization efforts.

Notable attendees at the meeting included Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, and National Security Advisor Eduardo Año. The discussions were part of broader engagements between US and Philippine officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and their Philippine counterparts. They reaffirmed the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific and deepened coordination against challenges in the South China Sea.

As tensions continue to simmer in the region, the strengthened cooperation between the US and the Philippines signals a concerted effort to bolster security and stability in the Indo-Pacific, underscoring the strategic importance of maritime cooperation in navigating complex geopolitical dynamics.