By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza (PNA photo by Joey Razon)

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday told the Chinese government that the recent Australia-Philippines joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea are not targeted against any country.

DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said the joint maritime activities were meant to enhance the two nations’ “interoperability” under their defense cooperation.

“The Philippines and Australia are strategic partners and we have a status of visiting forces agreement. The combined maritime activity is nothing new. It is a regular joint exercise to enhance the interoperability of Philippine and Australian military forces, consistent with our long-standing defense cooperation,” she said in a text message, in reaction to a Chinese Ministry of National Defense statement.

“The Philippines’ defense cooperation activities with Australia are not targeted against any country.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Australian Defence Force carried out the maritime activity within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone from Nov. 25 to 27.

The AFP had reported that two Chinese fighter jets orbited above a Philippine Air Force aircraft while patrolling the West Philippine Sea during the joint activity.

On Thursday, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense did not deny nor confirm but claimed the report was a “sheer malicious hype-up” and warned that the Chinese military “will stay vigilante [sic] and firmly safeguard” its claims over the South China Sea.

“Defense and security cooperation between countries shall not target any third party or harm a third party’s interests and shall not undermine regional peace and stability. We oppose any act that stirs up confrontation and heightens tensions in the South China Sea,” spokesperson Wu Qian said.

The DFA earlier said it was waiting for “full and verified reports” from agencies concerned when asked if the Philippines would lodge a diplomatic protest.

PH, US, Japan, Australia hold 1st joint staff talks

Meanwhile, the Philippines, the United States, Japan, and Australia held their first Joint Service Staff Talks in Tokyo, aimed at upholding a rules-based international order.

In a statement Friday, the Armed of the Philippines (AFP) said the meeting was held in Tokyo and runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1

Air Vice Marshal Mike Kitcher, Deputy Chief Joint Operations Australian Defense Forces; Maj. Gen. Nobutaka Minamikawa from the Defense Plans and Policy Department of the Japan Self-Defense Force; Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, Director for Strategic Planning and Policy Directorate, J5, US Indo-Pacific Command; and Brig. Gen. Rommel Cordova, AFP Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, AJ5, led their respective delegations in the discussions that focused on regional issues of common interest and more opportunities to expand cooperation.

The officers also reaffirmed a shared vision for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and a collective effort to ensure that the vision continues to thrive, the AFP said.

The meeting is an offshoot of the Japan-Philippine-Australia-US Defense Ministerial Meeting held in Singapore on June 3.

On Nov. 29, the heads of delegates for the talks also called on Japan Self-Defense Force Chief of Joint Staff, Gen. Yoshida Yoshihide. (with report from Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)