AT least six countries are interested in having their navies carry out joint patrols with the Philippines in the tension-shrouded South China Sea.
Speaking at the sidelines of the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) meeting at Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said several nations are keen on the idea of jointly patrolling the waters in the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese vessels have stepped up the harassment of Philippine Coast Guard ships on legitimate missions.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. Photo from Armed Forces of the Philippines
The West Philippine Sea is a part of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims to be part of its domain.
The United States, Japan and Australia have earlier discussed the concept with Philippine defense authorities following the escalation of Chinese intrusions. But Brawner said Germany, Canada and France are also open to joint patrols. Brawner said joint patrols are “definitely in our plan and right now we are in the process of working with the other countries.” US, Japanese and Australian warships have been sailing into the South China Sea in freedom of navigation missions, defying warnings by Beijing that they are encroaching on Chinese territory.
In 2021, the German destroyer “Bayern” also steamed into the South China Sea. The German foreign minister at that time, Heiko Maas, defended the move, saying his country aims “to be involved and take responsibility for maintaining the rules-based international order” in the Asia-Pacific region.
“For our partners in the Indo-Pacific, it is a reality that sea routes are no longer open and secure, and that claims to territory are being applied by the law of might is right,” Maas said.
Brawner said Canada and France also supported the idea of joint patrols during the recent Defense Chiefs’ meeting in Fiji last July.
He said at least three other countries are also carrying out joint patrols.
“This is a very good indication of the intent of like-minded countries to come together to promote the rules-based international order and to make sure that security in the Indo-Pacific region is maintained at all times,” he said.
China maintains a flotilla of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea to ward off any attempt by the Philippines to resupply its remote outpost in Ayungin Shoal.
On Thursday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (Wescom) reported that two Philippine Navy warships have taken up positions near the shoal to send a message to China that the Philippines is determined to keep access to Ayungin open.
Wescom said the Antonio Luna, a guided missile frigate, and the Gregorio del Pilar, a Hamilton-class cutter, cruised side-by-side off Ayungin Shoal.
“It emphasized the collaboration of Philippine Navy vessels, [which] serves as a powerful reminder of the Navy’s strength, strong presence and determination in carrying out its mission to protect and defend the Philippine maritime interest,” Wescom said in a statement.
The maneuver came following the successful resupply mission to Ayungin on August 9.
“This exercise provided a remarkable spectacle to witness both navy ships showcase their ability and coordination as they sailed in tandem, executing precision maneuvers while capturing stunning images of the ships’ actions,” Wescom said.
During the MDB meeting at Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday, a US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said US President Joe Biden has affirmed his support for the Philippines in case the security situation in the region escalates.