Australia: An important and critical ally

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

The official visit of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to Canberra underscores the ever-important alliance between the Philippines and Australia – the only other country aside from the United States with whom we have a Visiting Forces Agreement.

Australia clearly sees the Philippines as equally important to their defense strategy. This is the reason why President Marcos was specifically invited to address the Australian Parliament in a joint sitting. The invitation is rarely accorded to very few leaders. To date, only 16 others such as US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have been accorded that honor.

President Marcos said during his address to the joint sitting of the Australian Parliament that the long-standing friendship between the two nations transcends 78 years of formal diplomatic relations. He highlighted the progress that has been made since the signing of the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership during the official visit of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to the Philippines last year.

Noting that the destiny of Australia is “irrevocably linked to the destiny of Asia” and that both nations’ “prosperity and development are anchored on the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific,” the President emphasized that this peace and stability have come under threat.

“Once again, we must come together as partners to face the common challenges confronting the region. Not one single country can do this by itself,” the President said as he looked back to the peace that nations fought for during World War II, with the Philippines now finding itself “on the frontline against actions that undermine regional peace, erode regional stability and threaten regional success.”

Expressing his gratitude to Australia for standing with the Philippines, the President reiterated his firm resolve in defending our sovereignty, stating, “I shall never tire of repeating the declaration that I made from the first day that I took office: I will not allow any attempt by any foreign power to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory. The challenges that we face may be formidable, but equally formidable is our resolve. We will not yield.” 

Addressing the Australian Parliament was really an important opportunity for the President to let the legislators hear for themselves the situation that we are facing in the South China Sea with the relentless aggression displayed by a bullying country. Just like the United States, Australia is a critical ally that is committed to ensuring that peace and stability continue to reign in the Indo-Pacific region, and its adherence to ASEAN Centrality is seen in the upcoming ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne.

No doubt there is great uncertainty that hovers over the Indo-Pacific region, with great power rivalries that threaten regional and global economic growth and conflicting maritime claims that escalate the tension.

In my remarks at the Consular Corps of the Philippines meeting last Wednesday, I pointed to the important role that ASEAN plays in fostering cooperation that would lead to a peaceful and stable situation in the Indo-Pacific that we are all hoping for. Our group of ASEAN ambassadors in Washington is probably one of the most asked for meetings and engagements with many US officials, and the White House also makes it a point to meet with us over lunch at least once a month. While not every country in ASEAN is a claimant to the disputed territorial waters, we know that we all must work together to avoid any kind of conflict.

I was asked about the reaction of the United States on the possibility of China invading Taiwan, and I told the members of the Consular Corps that “deterrence” is a word that is being used extensively by members of the intelligence community, with the US doing everything it can to deter China from making that move. 

As a matter of fact, this is the perspective of former Australian Prime Minister and now Ambassador to Washington Kevin Rudd, who speaks Mandarin and is the author of “The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict between the US and Xi Jinping’s China.”

According to Ambassador Rudd, who is our good friend, “collective integrated deterrence” is a goal pursued by Australia, Japan, the US and other nations and thus far has been effective in keeping China from taking military action against Taiwan, as this could prove to be too risky. Many of us agree with Ambassador Rudd that Chinese President Xi will not make a move unless he is absolutely sure that he can militarily take over Taiwan.

Nonetheless, many of us believe the real flashpoint is the West Philippine Sea. The aggression we face today is very real because China will not let up on its over-expansive claims in our territorial waters. With all the dangerous maneuvers that are happening, one major accident could trigger the US or the Philippines to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty – which is why we just have to hope that every morning when President Xi wakes up, he will say, “today is not the day.”  

If like-minded nations band together, they can be a formidable force in resisting aggression and constraining one country from its incessant drive to prevail upon another through force. This is what happened during World War II when countries worked together to fight and eventually win against aggressors.  

Ukraine’s pushback is also something that everyone can learn from, with the embattled nation showing that it will not back down in defending its sovereignty despite the formidable odds it is facing. This tenacity of spirit is very evident in the Ukrainian Army chief’s statement that victory will definitely happen because “light always conquers darkness!”

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