The Philippines and Australia plan to conduct joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea, disputed waters that are increasingly becoming a potential flashpoint for a conflict between the US and China.
Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said Sunday that the plans have been approved by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Australian government.
“We are still planning the details but in essence, (the joint patrol) has been approved by the President and the Australian leadership,” Brawner said, according to The Philippine Star. “This is to ensure that we maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, especially a rules-based international order.”
Joint patrols could put Australian vessels into dangerous situations with the Chinese Coast Guard, as Manila and Beijing often have tense stand-offs near disputed reefs. In the most recent incident, Chinese vessels briefly blocked Philippine boats from resupplying a grounded ship on Second Thomas Shoal, which is part of the Spratly Islands.
Brawner’s comments came as the Philippines and Australia are conducting their first-ever joint amphibious military exercise, which included simulating retaking an island in the South China Sea. The drills, known as Exercise Alon, will conclude on August 31.
The US has been encouraging its allies in the region to increase military cooperation as part of its strategy to prepare for a future war with China. The US also strongly backs Manila’s claims in the South China Sea against Beijing and has affirmed that the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty covers attacks on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea.