MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday thanked Australia, Manila's "close partner", for "upholding international law" following its rejection of Beijing's territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Duterte and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a telephone conversation "had an open and productive exchange of views", the Filipino leader's office said.
Duterte "welcomed Australia’s interest to enhance cooperation with ASEAN on maritime security, countering marine plastic debris, counterterrorism, and cybersecurity, which are priority issues of the Philippines," his office said in a statement.
The Philippine leader also thanked Australia for "its formal manifestation before the United Nations affirming the Arbitral Award on the South China Sea issue," referring to the 2016 ruling that junked Beijing's "historic rights" to the resource-rich waterway.
“We consider Australia a close partner in upholding international law, including UNCLOS, and in promoting maritime security,” Duterte said, as quoted by his office.
Australia's ties with China soured in 2018 when it became the first country to publicly ban China's Huawei from its 5G network, and worsened after Canberra called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
In a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this month, Duterte had told his fellow leaders that the 2016 ruling that invoked the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea "cannot be diminished nor ignored."
In the same virtual conference, the 15 Asia-Pacific economies, including Australia and the Philippines signed the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP), possibly the world's largest free trade agreement.
Covering nearly a third of the global population and about 30 percent of its global gross domestic product, the RCEP will progressively lower tariffs and aims to counter protectionism, boost investment and allow freer movement of goods within the region.
Speaking to Morrison, Duterte "welcomed Australia’s pledge of support for ASEAN’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts," said the Office of the President.
Duterte cited the RCEP and the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area as "key frameworks that could help boost economic recovery and growth in the region," his office said.
Duterte also thanked Morrison for Australia’s "generous assistance" for the victims of typhoons Rolly and Ulysses and for the Philippines' COVID-19 response.
— With a report from Reuters