Philippine president tells Australia their strategic partnership is more important than ever

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Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. meets withy Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

MELBOURNE – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told Australia’s Parliament on Thursday that the strategic partnership between the two nations was more important than ever with the rule of law and peace in the region under threat from China.

Marcos told a special joint sitting of the two chambers during a state visit that the Philippines would not allow a foreign power to “take even one square inch of our sovereign territory.”

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It is a declaration he has often repeated since taking office in 2022 and refers to China’s disputed claims to the Philippines' territory in the South China Sea.

Marcos said Australia and the Philippines need to band together against new challenges to the region’s peace and stability, as they had against Japanese forces during World War II.

“Not one single country can do this by itself. No single force can counter them by themselves,” Marcos said. “This is why our strategic partnership has grown more important than ever.”

Marcos said his father, former President Ferdinand Marcos, and then-Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam reaffirmed that the security of their two countries was bound together in 1974 when they toured the Philippines' WWII battlefields of Bataan and Corregidor.

Australia and the Philippines for the first time conducted joint sea and air patrols in the South China Sea in November last year.

Marcos said the Philippines and Australia fought to build a rules-based international order after WWII, and that they must now fight to protect that order in the South China Sea.

“The protection of the South China Sea as a vital, critical global artery is crucial to the preservation of regional peace and, I dare say, of global peace,” Marcos said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reminded Marcos of his words when the leaders last met: prosperity and progress dependent on peace.

“That is what is so significant about the maritime cooperation activities our two navies completed together for the first time in November last year,” Albanese said.

“Our cooperation is an assertion of our national interest and a recognition of our regional responsibility,” Albanese added.

Marcos’ address was interrupted briefly by Senator Janet Rice, from the minor Greens party, who held up a sign that read: “Stop human rights abuses,” in a protest against the Philippines' record on rights.

Rice was later censured by a majority of her colleagues in the Senate with a motion that disapproved of her “unparliamentary and disrespectful conduct” in her protest and her “disregard for the importance of Australia-Philippines relations.” The censure is symbolic and carries no consequences for Rice.

Marcos and Albanese on Thursday announced new agreements on maritime cooperation, cybersecurity and fair trade regulation.

Following the two-day state visit, which ends on Thursday, Marcos will return to Australia next week with other Southeast Asian leaders to take part in an ASEAN-Australia Summit that marks 50 years of Australia’s partnership with the regional bloc.

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