MANILA — The Philippines and Australia upheld Thursday the importance of freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea during the first visit of Australia’s defense minister in the country.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Australian Defense Minister Sen. Linda Reynolds emphasized the need to maintain freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed area in compliance with international law.
“The two ministers exchanged views on developments in the region and agreed on the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea as well as compliance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea,” a statement from the Department of National Defense read.
The resource-rich waters are being wholly claimed by China, contrary to that of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan to their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
The bilateral meeting also highlighted Australia’s support for the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Australia pledged a $1-million support for the infectious diseases ward at the V. Luna Medical Center and donated some $2 million worth of medical and personal protective equipment for the hospitals under the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ health service command, the statement said.
The support is anchored on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Program between the two countries, it added.
“Both sides expressed their satisfaction that the Philippines and Australia have been able to sustain and further enhance the two countries’ defense relations despite the pandemic through the virtual conduct of defense and military dialogue,” it read.
The Philippines last week announced the resumption of oil exploration on the resource-rich waters, which paved the way for three projects to resume.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian hoped that the lifting of the moratorium would lead to a joint venture between the Philippines and China.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., meanwhile, said that all oil and gas development projects in the West Philippine Sea must pass the “highest standards of patriotism.”
The West Philippine Sea is the country's EEZ in the South China Sea.