By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, the Hon Richard Marles MP. (Photo courtesy of the Australian Ministry of Defence)

MANILA – Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles will meet with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to discuss the two nations’ bilateral ties, including on defense, during his official trip to the Philippines this week.

Marles is expected to arrive in Manila on Tuesday night and will depart for Thailand on Feb. 23, the Australian Embassy in Manila told the Philippine News Agency.

“Australia’s relationships across our region are founded on history, personal connections and shared interests,” Marles said in a statement.

“I look forward to the opportunity to deepen Australia’s engagement with the Philippines and Thailand, including through our important cooperation on defence and security,” he added.

Marles will also meet Officer-in-Charge of the Department of National Defense Carlito G. Galvez Jr. and other senior government representatives to discuss the “already deep ties between the two countries, including our defence forces,” according to the Australian Defence Ministry.

The trip comes as Australia seeks to elevate its relations with the Philippines into a strategic partnership as agreed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Marcos on the margins of the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting last November.

In a readout, the ministry said Australia is committed to working with the Philippines and Thailand in support of a “stable, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific region,” with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at its core.

Last week, Australia was among the first countries to back Manila after it lodged a protest against the Chinese Coast Guard, which flashed a military-grade laser light that temporarily blinded the crew of BRP Malapascua at the Ayungin Shoal, which is around 105 nautical miles west of Palawan province.

Australian Ambassador to Manila HK Yu called the action “unsafe and intimidatory” and called for “peace, stability and respect for international law in the South China Sea.” (PNA)