By Priam Nepomuceno and Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

SEALED. French Minister for the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu (left) and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. sign the letter of intent to strengthen defense cooperation between France and the Philippines during a bilateral meeting in Taguig City on Saturday (Dec. 2, 2023).They discussed, among others, regional security issues and the need to maintain peace in the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East, and Europe. (Photo courtesy of DND)

MANILA – France and the Philippines will “take concrete steps” to bolster their defense relations, including initiating talks on defense deals and the consideration of a visiting forces agreement.

Visiting French Minister for the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu met with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Saturday, resulting in a letter of intent that expresses their “willingness to raise the level of interaction and to consolidate their exchanges through practical cooperation.”

“We intend to take concrete steps into leveling up and making more comprehensive our defense cooperation principally by working to get authorization from our respective heads of state and relevant agencies to begin negotiations for a status of visiting forces agreement,” Teodoro said in a press conference in Taguig City.

The Philippines has visiting forces agreements with the United States and Australia, providing legal framework for the presence of one country’s forces in the other.

In November, the Philippines decided to commence the negotiation on a similar deal, to be called Reciprocal Access Agreement, with Japan.

Teodoro and Lecornu also committed to increase engagements on disaster risk reduction and resilience, defense technology, and combatting non-traditional threats, among others.

Teodoro said they discussed potential opportunities in defense industry cooperation and “other strategic areas of investment” where there is a security dimension.

He and Lecornu also agreed to sustain the visits and cooperation between their navies.

“I have a feeling that it had been a long time since the bilateral relationship has made headways especially for defense and security. This event is a starting point for us which will be a way to get regular milestones for practical agenda that will be in the interest of both our countries and joint security,” Lecornu said.

On maritime security, the two ministers reiterated Paris and Manila’s adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea while recalling the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea.

“Both countries have independent foreign policies and we respect such and we agree to work on shared values, shared cooperation, not only in the South China Sea but also in the Greater Pacific area where France also has a presence,” Teodoro said.

The two officials also discussed regional security issues, including the dangers of “unabated proliferation of nuclear weapons” and the need to maintain peace in the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East, and Europe.

Lecornu’s visit follows the commitment by Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to enhance the strategic partnership between France and the Philippines. (PNA)