PH, Australia agree: Nations must ‘go beyond’ major power struggle to settle South China Sea dispute

Published February 26, 2021, 3:25 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

Countries in the Indo-Pacific region should get past their individual desires to control their portion of the South China Sea if they want to resolve tensions in the disputed waters.

(AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

This was the consensus reached as top defense and security officials participated in the annual 19th Philippines-Australia Joint Defense Cooperation Committee (JDCC) meeting via video teleconference.

In a statement Friday, the Department of National Defense (DND) said both countries agreed that the Indo-Pacific region “must go beyond major power competition and should be inclusive and rules-based” if they want to iron out differences in the hotly-contested territories in the South China Sea.

Having inclusive and rules-based decisions will help in improving the situation in the South China Sea and, in effect, in the entire region, the DND noted.

Aside from the South China Sea dispute, the two parties also discussed cooperation to eliminate the threat of terrorism in the Indo-Pacific Region.

The DND further stated that the JDCC commended the robust cooperation between the Philippines and Australia–despite the pandemic–as seen in their high-level engagements last year, including the visit to Manila of Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in October 2020.

The JDCC meeting, held last Feb. 23, was co-chaired by Defense Assistant Secretary for Strategic Assessments and International Affairs Teodoro Cirilo T. Torralba III and Australia’s First Assistant Secretary for International Policy (FASIP) Hugh Jeffrey.

Tensions in the South China Sea escalated anew in January after China passed a law that enabled its coast guard to fire at foreign ships deemed as illegal intruders in its territorial waters.

China, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

To counter this, the United States have sent powerful warships in the area in an apparent exercise of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

In November 2020, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana warned that the Philippines will be caught in the line of crossfire if the power struggle between China and United States escalates into a full-blown war.

 
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