MANILA -- The defense chiefs of the Philippines, the United States, Japan and Australia have agreed to step up security cooperation in an effort to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific amid China’s growing maritime assertiveness in the region.
The first-ever quadrilateral talks took place on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday.
“It was an honor to meet with Secretary Galvez, Minister Hamada, and DPM Marles to discuss opportunities to expand cooperation across our four nations, including in the South China Sea,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said in a tweet, along with a photo of him with Philippine defense chief Carlito Galvez Jr., Japanese Prime Minister Yasukazu Hamada and Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles.
“We are united in our shared vision for advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he added.
In a separate tweet, the Japan Ministry of Defense said the defense chiefs “discussed regional issues of common interest and opportunities to expand cooperation.”
“They also affirmed that they share a vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific and collectively make efforts to ensure the vision continues to thrive,” the ministry said.
During the plenary session Q&A, Galvez said they discussed the possibility of expanding the Balikatan, the bilateral exercise between the Philippines and the US, into a multilateral exercise with allies.
“We are on the process of discussions. And actually, in the Balikatan exercises, we really explore on possibly expanding the bilateral Balikatan exercises into multilateral exercises,” Galvez said.
“So, in that exercise, we already included, for the first time, 101 Australian soldiers. And in the near future, we might be expanding it with other allied nations.”
Around 12,000 soldiers from the US military and 5,000 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines participated in the Balikatan exercise last April. A hundred more from the Australian Defense Force took part in smaller events, mostly land-based exercises.
There were also observers from other countries, including Japan.