SAYING it remained committed to keeping South China Sea peaceful and secure despite recurring irritants involving its neighbors, the Philippines has hailed Australia’s decision to establish an enhanced trilateral security partnership with the United States primarily, and the United Kingdom.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. noted, in a statement released on Tuesday, “an imbalance in the forces available to the Asean member states, with the main balancer more than half a world away,” referring to the United States. “The enhancement of a near abroad ally’s [Australia’s] ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it. Despite advances in military science, time and distance, and the concomitant stopping power of water, remain major constants in determining security capacity to respond appropriately to threats,” added Locsin.

Australia’s stepping up to the challenge is significant, he said, as he acknowledged that “Asean member states, singly and 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. Preventive diplomacy and the rule of law do not stand alone in the maintenance of peace and security.”

Proximity, Locsin continued, “breeds brevity in response time,” and in Australia’s case, the “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” is enhanced by its location. “This requires enhancing Australia’s ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration,” Locsin added.

“On the other hand, distance breeds delay in responding to an incident or series of incidents that bode a significant shift in the power equation advantageous to one great power but highly disadvantageous to the other power distant from the troubled scene. It is unlikely and uncharacteristic for the disadvantaged power in this case to acquiesce rather than respond to the sudden imbalance with less than a disproportionately stronger response before the imbalance hardens into geopolitical fait accompli,” the DFA chief continued.

Manila thus views the enhancement of Australia’s military capacity through the trilateral security partnership as “beneficial in the long term even to the other side, if only for the additional time it affords all protagonists for reflection before reacting.”

In Locsin’s view. “Australia’s actions reflect its concerns about this geographic imbalance and its desire to help maintain regional peace and security. That is its prerogative. Absent actual presence of nuclear weapons, we cannot infer violation of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty. We are open to discussing this with other governments. 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.”

The DFA chief also pointed out that the “dynamics and wide geographic reach of the Indo-Pacific require multilateral groupings that are flexible and adaptable in membership, strategic aims and the appropriate wherewithal to respond to changes in the regional military balance.”

As far as the Philippines is concerned, “what is essential is Australia’s commitment to the primacy of the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and Asean-led mechanisms,” Locsin stressed. “None of these mechanisms are compromised, weakened or in conflict with the enhancement of Australia’s ability to respond; quite the contrary.”

The Philippines, concluded the DFA chief, “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. “

Image courtesy of Philippine Coast Guard via AP

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