Right climate for a strategic partnership

LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA - HK Yu, PSM - The Philippine Star

Dear friends,

Two days ago, President Marcos delivered a powerful speech at the 77th United Nations General Assembly High Level Week in New York: He spoke of increased strategic tensions and set out the Philippines’ ongoing commitment to an open, inclusive and rules-based international order governed by international law. He spoke about the importance of tackling climate change and the role of emerging technologies on our lives. He stressed the importance of reinvigorating the world economy in the wake of the pandemic, and continuing investment in Philippine food security, public health, education and other social services.  Australia has similar priorities and is working closely with the Philippines to promote our common objectives.

Australia’s cooperation with the Philippines is broad and deep. It spans defence and security, development cooperation, trade and investment and people-to-people links. There are countless opportunities for us to work together towards our common objectives and, for this reason, I intend to develop our cooperation even further. To this end, I will be working to elevate our relationship from an already strong base to an even stronger Strategic Partnership.

Our defence relationship is underpinned by cooperation on counter-terrorism and maritime security. Australian and Filipino defence personnel have regular senior level dialogues and expert exchanges and cooperate on diverse training and education opportunities. Two Royal Australian Navy ships will visit Manila in October as part of Australia’s annual Indo-Pacific Endeavor. As part of this visit, Australian and Philippine defence personnel will conduct joint exercises and exchanges on maritime security, maritime law, humanitarian and disaster response and gender, peace and security.

Our maritime cooperation has expanded to include a senior officials maritime dialogue, where we advance joint maritime security and marine environment projects. I was at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in 2017 with former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, where in the wake of the 2016 South China Sea arbitral award he articulated Australia’s support for the international rules-based order and expressed concern about tensions in the South China Sea.

Our support for the peaceful resolution of disputes and international law is unwavering. Indeed, it remains central to the Australian Labor Government’s vision for a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific where sovereignty is respected.

Cyber security is an increasingly concerning problem for both our nations. This week, Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, Dr. Tobias Feakin, is in Manila engaging with Philippine government officials and business leaders on how we can work together more effectively to take advantage of opportunities and address common challenges of cyber resilience and security.

Australia partners with the Philippines to counter violent extremism and support the peace process in conflict-affected Mindanao. We share a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Philippines. Next week, Australia’s Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism, Mr. Roger Noble, will visit the Philippines to meet with senior officials in the Marcos administration to discuss ways in which we can work together in this mutually important area.

Australia’s development program in the Philippines is one of our largest, totalling approximately P3 billion (AUD80 million) annually. Our support aims to improve economic governance, public infrastructure, health systems and COVID-19 responses. In fact, just last week, the Australian Government provided 2.28 million doses of paediatric Pfizer vaccines to the Philippines.

Our investments in education and skills development promote economic growth, and our work on the enabling environment for business and trade is focused on women’s economic empowerment. We support disaster preparedness and response systems and foster social cohesion by strengthening governance and social protection.

Our trade and investment relationship is significant and growing. In 2021, the two-way goods trade between our countries was P183 billion, up by 40 percent on 2019 levels. There are over 300 Australian companies in the Philippines, and significant Philippine investments in Australia, including the AC Energy Corporate Solar Farm Project in New South Wales and International Container Terminal Services Incorporated’s Victoria International Container Terminal in Melbourne.

Australia has contributed to infrastructure projects in the Philippines, including the interior design of the Clark Airport terminal and tunnelling for the New Clark City. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine-Australian company PrimeBMD built nine health facilities and received a Gold Stevie Award at the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards for Most Valuable Corporate Response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our friendship is based on shared interests, values and strong people-to-people links. Filipinos are the fifth largest migrant community with over 400,000 residing in Australia. Training and education exchanges are expansive; Australia provides scholarships to Filipinos to study masters courses in priority areas including economic development, education and maritime. In 2021, around 13,000 Filipino students were studying in Australia.

On climate change, Australia recently increased its commitment, via legislation, to reduce carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. President Marcos said he would prioritize climate change action and environmental protection, including by reducing plastic and ocean pollution. Australia is working with the Philippines to protect its marine environment, through coral restoration, geospatial mapping of Philippine maritime features and resources and combatting illegal fishing.

As I wrote in my previous Letter from Australia, we are living in increasingly challenging times. It is precisely at times like these that friends come together to solve common problems and support one another, and that’s exactly what Australia and the Philippines are doing, in the enduring spirit of mateship and bayanihan.

I will be building on a relationship that is already broad and deep, and will work continuously to achieve even more together on the issues of importance for both our governments.

Yours truly,


*   *   *

HK Yu is the Australian Ambassador-designate to the Philippines. Follow her on Twitter @AusAmbPH.

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