Australia Prime Minister: Arbitral award ‘final, binding’

Helen Flores, Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
Australia Prime Minister: Arbitral award �final, binding�
Albanese voiced Australia’s position at a joint press conference with President Marcos at Malacañang, wherein they signed a Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership.

MANILA, Philippines — Visiting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has reassured the Philippines of his country’s support for the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping South China Sea claim, saying the ruling that China has continuously ignored is “binding and final.”

Albanese voiced Australia’s position at a joint press conference with President Marcos at Malacañang, wherein they signed a Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership.

“Australia does support, as I said at the East Asia Summit, the 2016 South China Sea arbitral award. That is final and it’s binding and it’s important that be upheld going forward,” Albanese said.

“We have collective responsibility for security, including support for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. UNCLOS, that’s very important,” he said, addressing Marcos.

Albanese’s visit is the first by an Australian prime minister in 20 years.

“It is fitting that we gather here today to commemorate the elevation of our relations from a comprehensive partnership to a strategic partnership. A very important development for us both,” Marcos said at the briefing.

“This signing of the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership signals our mutual commitment to deepening collaboration across a spectrum of areas that are vital to both our countries’ growth and prosperity,” he said.

Prior to their meeting in Manila, the two leaders met at the 3rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Australia Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday.

The Australian leader said the signing of a strategic partnership is an important symbol of the two countries’ strong relations and shared commitment to do more together.

“We discussed strengthening our cooperation on regional and national security. We agreed to formalize an annual defense ministers meeting,” Albanese said.

The Strategic Partnership, which covers defense and maritime matters, seeks to strengthen counterterrorism and law enforcement, as well as facilitate deeper cooperation in a range of areas including climate action, education, development and people-to-people exchanges.

During their bilateral meeting, Marcos thanked the Australian government for supporting the Philippines in its position on the South China Sea issue.

“Thanks to you, Mr. Prime Minister, for the strong support that you have made for the Philippines, especially during the past ASEAN conference, where you have made very clear that the claims being made upon Philippine maritime territory are not valid and have not been recognized and are not in conjunction or consistent with international law,” Marcos said.

“To have friends like you, and partners like you, especially on that subject, is very gratifying, encourages us to continue down that path,” he told the Australian leader.

Albanese said Australia’s position would remain consistent with regard to issues in the West Philippine Sea.

China has vowed not to recognize the July 12, 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which also reaffirmed the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

Beijing recently released what it called a 10-dash line map, which expanded the coverage of its claim in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has lodged a protest against the Aug. 28 release by Beijing – through the Ministry of Natural Resources of China – of what it called its 2023 Standard Map.

Holiday visa

Aside from the joint declaration on strategic partnership, Marcos and Albanese also witnessed the signing of memoranda of understanding including on work and holiday visa arrangement and on National Soil Health Strategy.

Albanese said Australia also works closely with the Philippines to support peace and stability in Mindanao.

“And I’m pleased to announce today a new five-year program to help further reduce violent conflict, reintegrate former combatants and improve community development and livelihoods, particularly for women and those in vulnerable situations,” he said.

Albanese said the people-to-people links between the two nations would be further strengthened by the new reciprocal work and holiday visa arrangements.

“Educational and institutional links will continue to play a key role in our bilateral relationship. And I’m pleased today to announce that we are doubling the number of Australia Award Scholarships available to students from the Philippines,” he said.

Albanese said Australia is home to more than 400,000 Filipinos.

“We’re also supporting the reestablishment of the Philippines Institute at the Australian National University which will boost partnerships between Australian and Filipino academic institutions,” he said.

The Philippines and Australia signed on Monday a $4.4-million grant on collaborative research to assist the Philippines develop its own National Soil Health Strategy.

Australia is the Philippines’ second largest partner in defense and security and one of only two bilateral partners with which it maintains a status of Visiting Forces Agreement.

It is also the Philippines’ 14th largest trading partner in 2022 and the country’s 11th largest source of total official development assistance, amounting to $180 million as of December last year.

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