What it means to be Strategic Partners

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

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you from Canberra, where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will soon address the Australian Parliament. As Australia’s Ambassador to the Philippines, I can’t help but be proud of the direction our bilateral relationship has taken in recent years and particularly the past 12 months.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to the Philippines in September 2023 was the first bilateral visit by an Australian Prime Minister to the Philippines in 20 years. Today, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. becomes the first Philippine leader to address the Australian Parliament – an invitation that demonstrates the warmth, depth and strength of our relationship as Strategic Partners and close friends. While in Canberra our leaders will discuss bolstering cooperation on maritime security, cyber and critical technology and supporting the Philippines’ economic reform goals.

We live in an increasingly complex and challenging world: geopolitical dynamics, economic headwinds, climate change and gender inequality create risks and uncertainties. Our Strategic Partnership allows us to work closely together to navigate the ever-changing landscape and to promote the international rules which underpin our peace, security and prosperity. Since the elevation of our relationship to a Strategic Partnership, our two countries have been working hard to turn commitments and signed agreements into action, and dialogue into delivery.

Australia has consistently opposed destabilizing and coercive actions in the South China Sea. But just as important as speaking up, we have also been pursuing new areas of cooperation to highlight the Philippines and Australia’s shared commitment to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight consistent with international law. In November 2023, our two countries reinforced our longstanding defense relationship through our inaugural bilateral maritime cooperative activity in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. The activity saw multiple ships and aircraft participate in a series of training and engagement activities at sea and in the air, to enhance skills, improve interoperability and ultimately, make our region more secure. This is what Strategic Partners do: show up to support each other in increasingly challenging times.

Through Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, Australia is deepening our economic engagement with the Philippines. The Australian Government is providing $95.4 million over four years to increase Australia’s trade and investment in Southeast Asia. The strategy includes increased high-level business missions and pilot internships for young professionals in Australian and Philippine companies. I’m very excited to announce that we are forming an Investment Deal Team that would further explore Australian investment opportunities in the Philippines.

With the Philippines as Australia’s fifth largest bilateral development program (P3 billion annually), we remain committed in ensuring we are focused on the Philippines’ development priorities. This year, we are launching new programs promoting social protection, inclusion and gender equality; law and justice and education and skills development. These initiatives will join our full suite of civil maritime cooperation and $64.5-million long-running peace-sustaining efforts in Mindanao.

As Strategic Partners, we are working together to improve agricultural competitiveness and food security in both countries for generations to come. Last week, I joined President Marcos in Agusan del Sur for the groundbreaking ceremony of a new soils laboratory which continues the work under our Memorandum of Understanding on Soil Health signed when Prime Minister Albanese was in Manila last year. A delegation of Filipino legislators and scientists also traveled to Australia last December to discuss soil and land management practices to support the Philippines in developing its own national soil health strategy.

The ties that bind our people are the foundation of our Strategic Partnership. In November, I was pleased to congratulate and send off over 50 Australia Awards scholars that will begin their postgraduate studies at Australia’s world-class universities. This figure was a significant jump from previous scholar numbers, delivering our Prime Minister’s commitment to enhance educational links and the invaluable connections between our people. That’s also the spirit of our new work and holiday visa program, which comes into effect this year and will continue to grow two-way travels for both Filipinos and Australians. Last month legislator Stella Quimbo was in Australia for our Canberra Fellowships Program, and we look forward to having more Filipino leaders visit and develop relationships with their Australian counterparts to foster long-term collaboration.

Australia is taking its partnership with the Philippines to a new level, both bilaterally and regionally, particularly through ASEAN. ASEAN and Australia share a region and a future – so intertwined that Australia is ASEAN’s first dialogue partner and a Comprehensive Strategic Partner. As ASEAN and Australia celebrate 50 years of dialogue relations this year, we reflect on our achievements over half a century of partnership and look forward to the next 50 years of seizing opportunities in our region. Australia looks forward to welcoming President Marcos and other ASEAN leaders to Melbourne in the coming days for a Special Summit to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN-Australia Dialogue Relations.

2023 was a massive year for the Philippines-Australia relationship, and we look forward to making 2024 much bigger and bolder. Working side by side with our Filipino friends, I know we can and I’m confident we will. My dear friends, I encourage all of you to build on the positive momentum of our Strategic Partnership and be part of the Philippines-Australia story.

*      *      *

HK Yu is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @AusAmbPH.

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