Australia-Philippines launch joint patrols amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea

Australia-Philippines launch joint patrols amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea
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Australia and the Philippines have begun joint patrols in the South China Sea, involving both sea and air operations. The move comes amid heightened tensions with China, which have put Pacific nations on alert. The decision to conduct these patrols also comes days after the Philippines made a similar move with the United States.

The three-day exercise follows talks earlier this year on joint patrol cooperation and the signing of a closer defense and security agreement. The exercise was designed to underscore Australia and the Philippines' commitment to closer cooperation and the rule of law in the region.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said the inaugural patrol exercise was a concrete step in the implementation of the strategic partnership between the two countries signed in September.

Philippine Defense Department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the patrols would be conducted in the West Philippine Sea, a term Manila uses to refer to waters in the South China Sea that fall within its exclusive economic zone.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed that two naval vessels and five surveillance aircraft would be involved in the patrol. Australia, on the other hand, announced its plan to send the frigate HMAS Toowoomba and P8-A maritime patrol aircraft to the joint patrol exercise.

China claims most of the South China Sea, including areas claimed by countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, through which more than US$3 trillion worth of trade passes annually. Despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that China's claims are illegitimate, tensions persist.

The Philippines, which opposes China's "aggressive activities" in the South China Sea, has stepped up efforts to counter the claims. China accuses the Philippines of patrolling the South China Sea with "foreign forces," while the Philippines insists this is its right.

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