Duterte cites close partnership with Australia

Published November 30, 2020, 9:59 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The Philippines considers Australia a “close partner” following its support for the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea dispute in favor of the country, President Duterte declared Monday.

The President expressed his gratitude to Australia during an “open and productive” television conversation with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on further strengthening bilateral relations Monday.

President Duterte had open and productive telephone conversation with Australian PM Scott Morrison, the Palace says (Sen. Bong Go via Genalyn Kabiling / MANILA BULLETIN)

“President Duterte also thanked the Government of Australia for its formal manifestation before the United Nations affirming the Arbitral Award on the South China Sea issue,” Presidential assistant on foreign affairs Robert Borje said in a statement.

“We consider Australia a close partner in upholding international law, including UNCLOS, and in promoting maritime security,” Borje said, quoting the President.

Back in July, Australia sent a diplomatic note to the United Nations rejecting China’s claims in the South China Sea that supposedly have no legal basis. It cited that the tribunal in the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award found China’s claims were inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In a recent regional summit, the President thanked Morrison for Australia’s “consistent support for 2016 Arbitral Ruling on the South China Sea.” He said Australia’s support “reinforces our efforts to counter claims and assertive actions [that] contradict international law, particularly UNCLOS.”

China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have laid claims to parts of the territory. Australia previously called on claimants to resolve their dispute in accordance with international laws.

In 2016, a UN-recognized arbitration court nullified China’s excessive claims to the South China Sea, upholding the Philippines’ claim to the disputed territory. Beijing however has refused to recognize the ruling and has kept its land reclamation and other activities in the contested territory.

Apart from the South China Sea conflict, the President tackled the country’s “growing ties” with Australia during the talk with Morrison.  Borje said the Philippines looks forward to the adoption of a Plan of Action to further implement the Joint Declaration of the Philippines-Australia Comprehensive Partnership.

The President likewise expressed thanks to his Australian counterpart for the assistance to the communities affected by recent typhoons.

The two leaders also discussed Australia’s interest to boost cooperation with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on maritime security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and fighting plastic waste pollution.

Duterte welcomed Australia’s pledge of support for the ASEAN’s pandemic response and recovery efforts. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) could  help boost economic recovery and growth in the region during the pandemic, according to Borje.

Morrison meantime committed to continue to strengthen Australia’s cooperation and partnership with the Philippines on mutual interest. “Prime Minister Morrison welcomed continuing developments that showed the value and strength of Philippines-Australia ties,” Borje said.