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Opinion

A Strategic Partnership for continuing prosperity

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

Dear friends,

Today marks a momentous occasion for the Australian-Philippine relationship!

This evening, the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is set to arrive in the Philippines on his first official visit. Tomorrow he will meet President Marcos and both leaders are expected to formally elevate our bilateral relationship to a Strategic Partnership.

The Prime Minister’s visit follows a series of high-level engagements this year between our countries which underscore the shared commitment of both nations to advancing common interests.

These include visits to the Philippines by Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles (twice), Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell, Special Envoy for Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore and Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell. And of course, Australia’s Governor-General was the most senior foreign dignitary in attendance at President Marcos’ inauguration last year.

The visit of Prime Minister Albanese is the most important of all. Last year, when the Prime Minister met with President Marcos in the margins of the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, he said, “Elevating our relationship to a Strategic Partnership will reinforce our focus on strengthening ties between our two countries, and working together to build a region that is resilient and prosperous for all.” His presence in Manila this week follows through on that commitment, in the true Australian tradition of putting our words into action.

Through our new Strategic Partnership, Australia and the Philippines will seek to expand our defence and maritime cooperation, strengthen counter-terrorism and law enforcement links and facilitate deeper cooperation in a range of areas including climate change, education, development and people-to-people links. We will work together towards an Indo-Pacific region that is open, stable and prosperous; a region in which all countries benefit from a strategic equilibrium.

In the area of defence cooperation in particular, our Strategic Partnership will build on our Status of Visiting Forces Agreement and our Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program, which enable our defence personnel to train and build capabilities together in both countries.

Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed this firsthand during the first bilateral amphibious activity between Australia and the Philippines, Exercise ALON, which was part of Australia’s flagship regional engagement Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2023.

This exercise showcased the range and extent of the skills and assets deployed to carry out the most complex and largest amphibious operations conducted between our countries, deepening our defence cooperation, capabilities and interoperability.

Multiple ships, including Australia’s largest naval ship HMAS Canberra, our fifth generation F-35 fighter aircraft and close to 2,000 personnel were involved in IPE23 Exercise ALON, with approximately 1,200 from the Australian Defence Force and 560 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, supported by 120 United States Marine Corps personnel.

Other Australian government agencies also contributed to a range of activities, reflecting Australia’s whole-of-government commitment to regional stability and security. These included workshops and training on issues ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to gender, peace and security, as well as sporting events and cultural activities.

In Palawan, I observed the first phase of Exercise ALON where our forces conducted an impressive joint air assault training exercise. I then joined President Marcos, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Marles, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro and Chief of Staff of AFP General Romeo Brawner for the next phase in Zambales where we sat in the viewing deck facing the West Philippine Sea. While there, I watched our partnership in action as both our forces conducted a joint amphibious assault exercise from the sea.

One thing that struck me, which was commonly expressed by a range of participants and observers, was the extraordinary camaraderie between our forces as they worked together – not as two distinct groups, but as one joint unit with shared values, objectives and indeed friendships. Australians and Filipinos ate together, trained together and, during their down times, played sports and games together, building a genuine sense of connection ready for facing shared challenges – whatever these may be – in the future.

Exercise ALON demonstrated clearly how in the face of a changing geo-political landscape, Australia and the Philippines will continue to work together to ensure that our region remains peaceful, where national sovereignty is respected and where the rules and norms of international law that have prevailed among us for decades continue to determine how countries should behave towards each other.

When our leaders sign our Strategic Partnership tomorrow and discuss how we deepen, broaden and strengthen our ties and cooperation for the continuing prosperity of our countries and peoples, I will think about Exercise ALON as one clear example of what this means in practice.

Of course, there are many other exciting areas of cooperation our leaders will discuss over the next two days, which we look forward to hearing about – and no doubt will keep me and my staff at the embassy very busy in a very good way!

Yours truly,

HK

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HK Yu is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. You can follow Ambassador Yu on Twitter @AusAmbPH.

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