Press conference with the Hon Enrique Manalo, Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Australia-Philippines relationship; Strategic Partnership with Philippines; Montevideo Maru; Joint maritime cooperation; South China Sea; ASEAN; China trade.

Speaker: We’ll then invite questions in the Q&A session. Secretary Manalo, please.

Enrique Manalo, Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs: Thank you. Excellencies, Senator the Honourable Penny Wong, Ambassador HK Yu, colleagues from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia and the Embassy of Australia in the Philippines, colleagues from the DFA Press Corps.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was pleased to welcome this morning Senator the Honourable Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia and her delegation to Manila. As close partners in the region, the Philippines and Australia share a mutual interest and values that have remained steadfast for over seven decades.

We’re further guided by our mutual recognition that the security and prosperity of both our countries are linked to stability in the region. These are the same guiding principles enshrined in our joint declaration on the comprehensive partnership which in 2015 was recognised as signifying a transformative phase in the relationship and serving as a guiding framework for all aspects of our bilateral relations.

This morning Minister Wong and I had discussions on the bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and Australia. The discussions spanned defence and security, trade and investment and other forms of economic cooperation, agriculture cooperation, maritime partnership, countering terrorism, extremism and transnational crimes, development for cooperation and people-to-people links have reflected the strong dynamism of our working and high-level engagements.

I am pleased to note that Minister Wong’s visit is the fourth high-level visit from Australia to the Philippines since January this year following the visits of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles in February, Special Envoy for Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore in March, and Trade Minister Don Farrell in April.

My engagements with Minister Wong and her delegation today also moved forward with the gains achieved at working level meetings last year – notably the Foreign Ministers consultations in February and the strategic dialogue co-hosted by the departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defence last November.

The discovery of the wreckage of the World War II Japanese ship the Montevideo Maru off the coast of Luzon last month demonstrates also the clear benefits of our collaboration.

I wish to recognise the efforts of each of our diasporas. Filipinos in Australia, which now number about 400,000, and Australians in the Philippines – in contributing to the economic, social and cultural growth of our countries. Our peoples remain the bedrock and face of our dynamic and active relationship.

Our discussions today highlighted that the Philippines and Australia remain committed to working and deepening relations with regional partners both in bilateral and multilateral mechanisms and thereby advancing our shared strategic interests. Thank you.

Speaker: Minister Wong.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much. Can I say what a pleasure it is to be here in the Philippines and to meet with you, Foreign Secretary, and I thank you for your hospitality and for the openness and tenor of our dialogue. I appreciate it.

Our two countries have a partnership that is deep and longstanding, spanning more than 77 years of diplomatic relations. And as the Foreign Secretary said, it is built on our strong people-to-people links. We are home to some 400,000 Filipino Australians, our fifth largest diaspora, and many of your people have studied in our country and have returned home.

I want to make clear publicly what I said to the Foreign Secretary privately – that we are committed, deeply committed, to elevating our relationship with the Philippines for a strategic partnership. We think that finalises what is already in practice a strategic partnership. And a formal strategic partnership recognises the importance of our relationship and the depth and breadth of our cooperation.

The Philippines is a vital, longstanding security partner for Australia. And as our region navigates shifting strategic circumstances, we are working closely with each other to shape the sort of region we want – a peaceful, open, stable, prosperous region. Your President said that in order to achieve our common goal of peace and prosperity for our peoples we need to work with like-minded partners. Well, we are a like-minded partner, and we see you as such. And we recognise that no single country can do this alone and that stronger and better partnerships result in better outcomes for all.

We want a region that is predictable, that operates by agreed rules, standards and laws in which sovereignty is respected. We want to work with the Philippines to support ASEAN’s vital contribution to regional peace and security, including through maritime cooperation.

We discussed today the ways in which we will enhance our cooperation. This includes Australia providing drone equipment, training and other technology to strengthen our coast guard’s maritime domain, awareness and protection capabilities. And I was honoured yesterday, as I outlined to the Foreign Secretary, to meet your coast guard officials yesterday and tour their headquarters and share their experiences of the West Philippines Sea and the South China Sea and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Australia is also sharing information and providing technical assistance for maritime legislators and government officials and working with you to increase your capacity to deal with illegal fishing in the maritime zone.

I also thank the people and the government of the Philippines for your work in ascertaining the location of the Montevideo Maru. As I said to the Secretary, obviously this has been a very sad chapter in our history, and we are grateful for your assistance in that work.

I would finish on this point, which is the point about ASEAN centrality and the importance of the role of the Philippines. We are deeply committed as a country to ASEAN centrality. We recognise that the countries of the region, including the Philippines, want growth, opportunities and prosperity. We know that your success is our success. With this visit I have now travelled as Foreign Minister to all countries of ASEAN with the exception of Myanmar.

And what I’d say to you is that is an expression of our priorities and of our intent – deeper collaboration between Australia and Southeast Asia is a priority of our government. We have in our budget delivered just last week included investment of an additional $55 million to deepen our engagement with Southeast Asia, building on our 470 million boost in development assistance to the region in the earlier budget. We will support more people-to-people links, including specialised scholarships, and we committed to our Southeast Asian economic strategy to 2040, which the Secretary and I discussed.

In summary, I am really pleased to be here. We are grateful for the conversation, for the hospitality and the warmth of our welcome. And we are excited about the opportunity to strengthen our partnership even further in the weeks, months and years ahead. So thank you, Foreign Secretary.

Speaker: Thank you, Secretary Manalo. Thank you, Minister Wong. We’re now opening the floor to questions. But since we’ve received a number of questions. We’re actively starting this session by raising the questions that we’ve received. So the first question that has actually been raised by GMA News as well as NHK and addresses Secretary Manalo: is there a planned state visit or meeting between Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Philippine President Bongbong Marcos in either Australia or Manila?

Secretary: Thank you very much. Well, let me begin by saying that the Philippines appreciates the very sustained, high-level engagements with Australia which, as I said earlier, reflect the strong relationship between our two countries. And we expect that high-level engagements will continue as the Philippines and Australia work harder to strengthen our cooperation in quite a number of practical areas of mutual interest.

There is an opportunity for the President to visit Australia for the 50th anniversary commemorating the ASEAN-Australia dialogue relations in March 2024 , and a bilateral visit is also possible at a mutually agreed date.

Speaker: Thank you, Secretary. The next questions were raised NHK and other media. The questions are as follows, and this is addressed to Minister Wong. Will Australia be joining in the joint maritime patrols with the Philippines and the United States and other like-minded countries in the South China Sea? And the follow-up question is: will Australian increase its join military training with the Philippine forces and, if so, specifically in what areas? What is the focus of progressing the Australian-Philippine relationship from comprehensive to strategic partnership?

Foreign Minister: I think there are three questions in one but I’ll try and answer all of them. How about that? First in relation to the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, we are committed to continuing Australia’s longstanding presence in the region, including in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. We are open to cooperating with all our partners to exercise freedom of navigation and over flight, and the Philippines is a longstanding important security partner for us.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Minister for Defence in his visit here in February spoke about the importance of increased cooperation including increased combined maritime activities such as joint patrols. We are – our departments are discussing the best pathway to take this forward. And we want to keep working with the Philippines on that.

In relation to joint military training, as you know, we have a longstanding defence cooperation arrangement. Planning is already underway for further joint training activities. And as we speak our Defence Forces are conducting a joint military exercise called Kasangga – I hope I’ve got the pronunciation right - which is taking place over I think a couple of three-week packages where we are learning from you and you are learning from us. So I’m very pleased that that is occurring.

Speaker: Thank you, Minister Wong. The third set is actually addressed to both the Secretary and the Minister. Can you provide an update on the potential for trilateral cooperation between the Philippines, Japan and Australia which is currently being explored alongside the United States? And a follow up addressed to the Minister is: you have spoken about stabilising relationships with China. Could you expand on that and how has Australia been successful in achieving such?

Secretary: Thank you. On the question of trilateral cooperation, yes, various trilateral modes of cooperation are certainly under consideration. And I look forward – and we look forward to discussing with Australia and our other partner Japan and even with perhaps the United States on possible modes of cooperation. We are certainly planning to take all of these discussions in the near future.

Foreign Minister: We want to for the Philippines a strategic partner. We want to work with the Philippines and with other parties and other nations in the region to help shape the region we all want. We all want peace. We all want stability. We all want to prosper. And we want to work with our strategic partners – and we hope to be one soon with the Philippines. We want to work with ASEAN respecting ASEAN’s centrality as the centre of such a region. And obviously we will continue to work with our partner the United States. So these are discussions. What we are looking at what are the ways in which we can do that. And we’re very open to those discussions.

The discussion about – or the question about stabilising the China relationship, it’s a very good question. And when we came to government one of the things we spoke about was how we stabilise that relationship. And can I share with you this about what that means: we see stabilising the relationship as encompassing cooperation where we can, disagreement where we must, and continued engagement. We see stabilising as managing our differences wisely. And that means both countries manage their differences wisely. We have engaged with our counterparts at foreign minister level, at legal level and also at trade minister level. We are making it clear that we hope that we can – we hope that there is the removal of the trade impediments that had been imposed in this relationship. We’ve made it clear to China that we think it’s in both countries’ interests for those trade impediments to be removed.

I would say I was very pleased last night to be notified that we’ve seen movement in terms of timber trade, and our officials were notified last night that Australian timber can return to China. That was confirmed by the Chinese Ambassador in Canberra this morning. We are pleased with this development. And as I’ve previously said, we do believe that the removal of these trade impediments benefits both parties.

Speaker: Thank you. This concludes – because of time constraints, this concludes the Q&A session. We thank the Minister and Secretary for joining us in this joint press conference. We thank everyone for actually joining us as well. To the Australian delegation, a productive meeting ahead and safe travels back to Australia. Thank you.

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