Press Conference, Zambales, Philippines

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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25 August 2023

GILBERTO C. TEODORO JR, PHILIPPINES SECRETARY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE: We are honoured to have with us today in this Exercise Alon, which is the largest exercise of Indo-Pacific Endeavour of Australia, we are honoured to have with us today the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Defence Minister, the Honourable Richard Marles, Her Excellency Ambassador Yu, the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. This exercise today which you have seen has been very, very successfully conducted. It’s a testament to the hard work that both our forces, together with US forces, put into planning, coordinating and finally gelling into the output of having a successful mission. But this mission is just a manifestation of where we want our defence and bilateral relations to be. And it's close to coming from a comprehensive partnership to a strategic one. And we have talked with His Excellency on the sidelines about how we can enhance our bilateral and multilateral defence cooperation with the (inaudible) view that regional security and stability are essential to the national securities of both our countries. We share values, we share respect for the rule of law. And if one of our country's security is violated, then regional security suffers and (inaudible) because of supply chains, global security. And there are people-to-people exchanges between both our countries. Our countries have a common history of sending people to one another’s shores, and they are welcome with welcome arms, and we gel. As a people we share common values. And so we want to work on that relationship and we thank His Excellency for symbolising his country's commitment to the welfare of both our countries, to the region, and to the world today. Thank you very much Your Excellency for honouring us today in your visit and for committing further exchanges between your armed forces, your people and ours.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you. It is an honour to be here and it has been a joy to be meeting with Secretary Teodoro today. Thank you, Mr Secretary for hosting me and my delegation today on my second visit to the Philippines this year. It is wonderful to be back. As I said when I was here in February, the relationship between Australia and the Philippines is a long relationship and a very deep relationship. It’s one which has strong people-to-people connections. The 400,000 strong Australian Filipino community is one of the largest communities in our country, one of the largest Filipino diasporas in the world. And it's a population which really transforms the relationship of our two countries from being one of friends, to being one family. And that is felt very deeply in our country. What we've seen though over the course of the last year is this relationship developing a huge strategic dimension to it. Born of shared values, but born of a sense of common strategic alignment that has probably not been felt before between our two countries. When I listened to Secretary Teodoro speak today about the challenges that are faced by the Philippines, about where the Philippines national security and national interest lies, it feels so similar to how Australia sees the world. Because ultimately for both of us, our security lies in a secure region where the rules-based order is maintained and has primacy. The defence of Australia doesn't really mean a lot if we do not see ourselves living within a secure region. And so we see our Defence Force and its principal role as being to provide for the collective security of the region in which we live and the expression of the rules-based order within that region, which is why we are so excited by the exercise that we've just witnessed today. This is the largest bilateral exercise that Australia and the Philippines has ever undertaken. This is the largest exercise that Australia will engage in beyond our shores this year. And we saw an impressive display of capability, but of two countries’ defence forces working together seamlessly, and to use the Secretary's words, gelling. But that doesn't happen but for the fact that there is a strong sense of shared values between our two defence forces.

We are ambitious about where we take this relationship and as the Secretary said to me earlier, we need to be ambitious. Earlier this year we talked about Australia and the Philippines doing joint patrols in the maritime domain, we are working on that and we look forward to having the first of those patrols happen soon. Today we also talked about other ways in which we can build the cooperation between our two defence forces with greater exchanges between our defence forces. Looking at ways in which we can work more closely together on logistics, looking at ways in which we can cooperate and share our experiences in the joint integrated space. All of this builds the relationship between our two defence forces and creates a very powerful demonstration about Australia and the Philippines working together. And we also spoke about the desire for us in working together to do so with other friends and allies in the region and we look forward to exploring those opportunities as well. Mr Secretary, thank you very much for having me and my delegation here. It has been a really fantastic morning to see what we've seen. But it's an enormous honour to be able to represent my country here today and to do so just a couple of weeks before my Prime Minister will be here to meet with President Marcos and we are really excited about the prospects of that leaders meeting in just two weeks’ time.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Your Excellencies. So we can now proceed to the question and answer. As is our Filipino way we will give courtesy to our guests and their traveling media. The first question will be from Mr Bill Birtles of ABC Australia.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much. This is a question to both of you, but Mr Secretary, these drills, and it's the second time this week that Australia and the Philippines have done joint drills, there were some in Palawan earlier, do they create the impression in the Philippines that if there is conflict with China over disputed islands that Australia would militarily support the Philippines? And to the Minister, is that a perception – whether it's true or not, is that a perception that Australia wants to give to the Philippines?

SECRETARY TEODORO: For us it is a function of exercising our interoperability. I really don't know what impression it gives. I’m not prepared to answer it, I haven't taken a survey. But what we know is that we share shared interests, our national security interests converge. We have a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement in both defence departments and armed forces. And the Australian Defence Force will work hard to make this a functional and effective and a meaningful one. So I really don't know what kind of impression it gives the Filipino people. I haven't taken, honestly, a survey on it. But nonetheless, besides the impression, it is the national strategic imperative of having shared national security interests that will remain insofar as I'm concerned.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think as the Secretary said there is a Status of Forces Agreement between our two countries and our two defence forces. And so the architecture, the formal architecture of the cooperation is significant. But I think what people should take from Exercise Alon and Indo-Pacific Endeavour 23 is that we are very ambitious about working more closely together, about building our high end interoperability, about seeing our defence forces become closer. And that's what we are trying to achieve through these exercises, through the discussions that we've just had, and where we want to take the defence relationship going forward. And I guess what we're trying to convey here is that in the context of a very long and deep bilateral relationship between our two countries, the strategic dimension of that relationship, the defence aspect of that relationship is a part of the relationship which is really important.

MODERATOR: The next question will be from Pamela Castro of NHK.

JOURNALIST: Sir just to tap on that, speaking of impressions, for Defence Minister Marles, for the record (inaudible) what you want to communicate to the Philippines, and also to the world, with your presence here for today’s exercises?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think there are some very important messages that we've both communicated, your right to the Philippines, but also to the world. Firstly, we are two countries with shared values who are very close and need to become closer and we want to build the habit of cooperation and we want to build that habit across the defence relationship as well. Beyond that, I think the message that we want to convey to the region and to the world through an exercise of this kind is that we are two countries committed to the global rules-based order. We are committed to an idea of a world in which disputes are determined by reference to international law. And that what we will do is bring our military capability to enhance the rules-based order and to provide for the expression of it. And in that sense, what we are about is peace. Peace is maintained through the protection of deployable rules-based order and its functionality around the world, and in truth around the world today we see it under pressure. And so I think that message is as important now as it’s ever been.

MODERATOR: The next question will be from Bianca Dava of ABS-CBN.

JOURNALIST: Hello, good morning. Sir, earlier this year, the defence chiefs of the Philippines and Australia discussed pursuing joint patrols in the South China Sea. We know you've mentioned it earlier, but we'd like to ask for more details. In what stage of the planning process are we now in? And when can we expect the joint patrols to happen?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think the answer to the final part of the question is soon. We are working closely together, doing joint sails is something that we've been keen to pursue now for some time. And our two defence forces have been working closely together about how to make that happen and to that in the most effective way. And we're really pleased with the progress of those discussions and we expect that the first of those joint patrols will happen in the not too distant future.

MODERATOR: Next question will be from Bea Bernardo of PTV.

JOURNALIST: Good morning. Some experts suggest that the Philippines invite an allied country to conduct a resupply mission for the troops of BRP Sierra Madre. Is Australia willing to support the Philippines in this kind of mission?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean, obviously, we've been looking very carefully at what's happened. We won't– I'm not going to go into questions of hypotheticals. But let me make these observations about what we've seen. Australia is firmly committed to the global rules-based order, and that includes the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is fundamentally important to our national interest and to the national interests of the Philippines. Part of the rules-based order, as I said earlier, is the idea that disputes can be determined by the rule of law. And so the 2016 arbitral award is profoundly important in terms of what it says about the West Philippine Sea and we support the 2016 arbitral award. Beyond that, I’d also make this observation, when militaries interact with each other on the high seas it is really important that happens in a safe and a professional manner. Now all of those are principles that we bring to bear in terms of the way we see how engagement should happen in this part of the world, but on the high seas generally, and how important UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and its maintenance is to Australia's national interest.

SECRETARY TEODORO: To address the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister, your specific question looks a cart before the horse. Right now, it's well within our capabilities to do so and that's a Philippine matter, because it's Philippine territory.

MODERATOR: Thank you Sirs. The next question will come from Bea Cupin of Rappler.

JOURNALIST: Good afternoon. This is for the Deputy Prime Minister. Given the goals of the IPE (Indo-Pacific Endeavour) would make the Indo-Pacific peaceful, open and secure, and how do you think countries like the Philippines contribute to engagement? How do you think we would contribute to that goal?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well firstly, I think the Philippines is contributing greatly to that goal. We want to see a free and open Indo-Pacific and we want to see that operating on the basis of an established rules-based order which exists. And in order to see that, countries which want to live by those rules, it's really important that they are standing up and asserting those rules. And we see that happening through what the Philippines does. And hopefully, that's what we seek to do in terms of our engagement in the region and the world. But the maintenance of the collective security of our region and the expression of the rules-based order within that region is a fundamental objective not only of our national interests, but indeed of what our Defence Force seeks to do. Those are two of the five tasks of our Defence Force coming out of our own Defence Strategic Review, which is a process that we've undertaken during the course of the last 12 months. It's really important that that rules -based order is asserted and I actually think that the exercise we've seen today, the cooperation that it demonstrates between our two countries is a perfect example of two countries working together to assert the rules-based order.

MODERATOR: The last question will be from Frances Mangosing of the Inquirer.

JOURNALIST: Good afternoon. Sir, what was the role of the US Navy Poseidon that was photographed during the recent resupply mission and what future joint activities do we expect between the Philippines and US in the West Philippine Sea? (Inaudible) said in a statement today that there is a joint sail (inaudible) resupply mission for implementation in the middle of September, or first week of October (inaudible).  

SECRETARY TEODORO: There will be a joint sail but the joint resupply I am not sure about. I know of a joint sail and the role of the United States in those resupplies, they were providing freedom of navigation, they were conducting freedom of navigation operations on their own, uncoordinated with us and which they do on a regular basis anyway. So, there will be a joint sail, just like joint patrols with Australia, but joint resupply I have not come across it yet.

JOURNALIST: Sir, the US Embassy said (inaudible).

SECRETARY TEODORO: Well, they may have coordinated it, but that's below my level, the level of coordination (inaudible).


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