Manila, Sep 8 (EFE).- Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Jr met in Manila on Tuesday and announced the signing of an agreement to strengthen bilateral ties, amid renewed territorial tensions in the South China Sea.
The signing of the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership signifies a boost in cooperation between Manila and Canberra in areas such as security, innovation and economic development and marks a “very important development” for bilateral ties, Marcos Jr said in a joint statement after the meeting.
The deal “signals our mutual commitment to deepening collaboration across the spectrum of areas that are vital to both our countries’ growth and prosperity,” the Philippine president said.
The two leaders also agreed to formalize an annual meeting between their defense ministers and announced a joint program to reduce violence in Mindanao region of the Philippines, which has been affected by a separatist conflict for five decades.
“Australia’s working with our partners, including of course, the Philippines, to shape a region where sovereignty is upheld, and economic cooperation is underpinned by international rules based trade,” Albanese said, after becoming the first Australian PM to visit the Philippine archipelago in two decades.
He also reiterated Canberra’s stance over Manila’s territorial dispute with Beijing in South China Sea.
“Australia does support the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Award, that is final and it’s binding,” the PM said, referring to a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague that had backed most of Manila’ claims in the South China Sea on areas disputed with China.
However, Beijing has never recognized the ruling.
“We have a collective responsibility for security, including support for the UN Convention and the Law of the Sea,” Albanese insisted.
Marcos Jr thanked Australia’s support during the recent summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and reiterated that China’s claims on “Philippine maritime territory” were “not valid.”
“The claims that are being made upon our Philippine maritime territory, are not valid and have not been recognized, and are not in conjunction or consistent with international law,” the Philippine president said.
The bilateral meeting between Albanese and Marcos Jr comes at a time of heightened tensions between Manila and Beijing over maritime disputes, even as Australia and other allies of the United States have been wary of China’s growing influence in the strategically important region.
On Aug. 25, the Philippine and Australian navies simulated the capture of an island in an areas close to the region disputed by China in the South China Sea, marking the first high-level military drills between the two sides.
After the military exercises, the Philippine military announced that Australia would jointly patrol with its navy in the South China Sea close to the Philippines archipelago. EFE