President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Matina, Davao City on September 20, 2021. (MNS photo)

MANILA, Sept 21 (Mabuhay) — The Philippine government has welcomed Australia’s decision to establish a trilateral partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom, citing its benefit to maintaining peace and security in Southeast Asia.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the proximity of an ally to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) allows it to respond timely to threat or even a challenge to the status quo in the region “if only for the additional time it affords all protagonists for reflection before reacting.”

“Proximity breeds brevity in response time; thereby enhancing an Asean near friend and ally’s military capacity to respond in timely and commensurate fashion to a threat to the region or a challenge to the status quo. This requires enhancing Australia’s ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration,” he said in a statement.

Locsin said Asean member states, “singly or collectively, do not possess the military wherewithal to maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia, discourage the sudden creation of crises therein, and avoid disproportionate and hasty responses by rival great powers”.

“There is an imbalance in the forces available to the Asean member states, with the main balancer more than half a world away. The enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it,” he said.

AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States), unveiled last week, is seen to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea where it lays claim on almost 80 percent of the strategic water under its so-called nine-dash line that has been invalidated by a Hague-based arbitral tribunal.

It will also provide Australia the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines, a partnership denounced by China, which says it risks intensifying the arms race and undermining international non-proliferation efforts.

Australia’s actions reflect its concerns about the “geographic imbalance” in the Indo-Pacific and its desire to help maintain regional peace and security, Locsin said.

“That is its prerogative. Absent actual presence of nuclear weapons, we cannot infer violation of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty. We are open to discussing this with other governments,” he said.

“We appreciate Australia’s continued and absolute commitment to meeting its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to the highest standards of nuclear stewardship,” he added.

Locsin recognized that the dynamics and wide geographic reach of the Indo-Pacific require multilateral groupings that are “flexible and adaptable.”

But for the Philippines, he said essential is Australia’s commitment to the primacy of the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and Asean-led mechanisms.

“None of these mechanisms are compromised, weakened or in conflict with the enhancement of Australia’s ability to respond; quite the contrary,” he said.

“The Philippines aspires for the South China Sea to remain a sea of peace, security, stability, and prosperity. We are acutely aware of great power dynamics; with a sharp eye we will engage in practical and mutually beneficial cooperation aligned with the priority areas of the Outlook,” he added. (MNS)

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