Australia and Philippines relations evolve to strategic security partnership

On June 5, 2022, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles revealed details of an incident between a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese People’s Liberation Air Force (CPLAF) fighter plane in the South China Sea. The incident revealed that Australia and the Philippines shared a common interest in regional security and stability in the face of the looming China challenge in the South China Sea. 


Both sides have shared real-world military operations beginning with their responses to the 1999 East Timor Crisis, the 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan devastation of central Philippines, and the 2017 Siege of Marawi City. Despite these activities, there is a perception that the two countries’ security ties could have been faster, more comprehensive, and more consistent. The Philippines and Australia have long-standing defense cooperation, facilitated by a series of bilateral agreements.


The oldest is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperative Defense Activities, and the most important is the 2007 Philippine-Australia Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Former President Rodrigo Duterte's efforts to gravitate closer to Beijing alarmed Canberra but allowed Australia to enhance its security ties with the Philippines. The bilateral relationship between Manila and Canberra was seen as robust enough to stand independently. The Philippine-Australian security relations have improved significantly, with bilateral defense arrangements such as Operation Augury, the September 2018 Terms of Reference, and the 2021 Philippine-Australia Mutual Logistic Support Arrangement.


Foreign Minister Wong has proposed transforming the two countries' security partnerships from comprehensive to strategic, including providing surveillance drones and high-tech equipment to the Philippines, technical assistance and capacity-building exercises for the Philippine Coast Guard, and potential trilateral security cooperation between Manila, Tokyo, and Canberra. This partnership will strengthen mutual interests in regional security and economic stability.

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