France And The Philippines Eye Closer Defense Cooperation
December 04, 2023
Taguig City – Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. and French Minister for the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu met today, during the landmark visit to the Philippines by a French Defense Minister.
They discussed current regional security issues in the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East / Southwest Asia, and Europe, underscoring the rules-based international order and calling for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Consistent with the security and defense interests of the Philippines and the French Indo-Pacific Strategy, they highlighted their shared positions supporting a free, open, inclusive and stable Indo-Pacific. With regard to the West Philippine Sea / the South China Sea, both sides expressed adherence to the spirit and provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the primacy thereof, and recalled the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea.
The ministers welcomed the positive trajectory of Philippines-France defense and military cooperation, demonstrated by the regular convening of the bilateral defense dialogues, visits by defense and armed forces delegations, continuous educational exchanges, port visits, as well as naval and disaster response training activities.
They reaffirmed their determination to work for a stronger long-term partnership in the maritime, land, aerial, and information domains. Along this line, they renewed their commitment to deepen the bilateral defense relations between the Philippines and France through the signing of a Letter of Intent wherein both sides express the willingness to raise the level of interaction and to consolidate their exchanges through practical cooperation. This includes strengthening the legal framework of the bilateral defense relationship, by initiating discussions on defense agreements, including the consideration of a status of visiting forces agreement, enhancing defense and military activities, including capability development and joint defense industry cooperation.
The visit of French Minister for the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu marks a major development in not only French-Philippine relations but also France’s stance in the Indo-Pacific as a whole. With this meeting, France and the Philippines could potentially pursue more comprehensive treaties such as a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which could see French forces train on Philippine territory. Only three other countries, the United States, Australia, and Japan, are in the process of obtaining or already having this treaty with the Philippines.
Aside from joint training and exercises that demonstrate solidarity with the Philippines, which has been facing an increasingly difficult security situation with China, the VFA also opens up the possibility for joint patrols in the South China Sea. While not explicitly aimed against specific countries, the joint patrols conducted last month by the United States and Australia with the Philippines were pursued after several incidents with Chinese maritime forces in the region.
These activities seek to show resolve and support to the Philippines from countries that want to back Manila more directly. However, as pointed out during an interview with the Canadian ambassador to the Philippines on the same topic, to conduct a joint patrol a VFA or similar agreement is needed. After this meeting between Lecornu and Teodoro, a path toward French-Philippine joint patrols in the South China Sea has opened.
Within the last decade, Paris has stepped up its efforts in enhancing Manila’s maritime security forces through the provision of five patrol boats to the Philippine Coast Guard. French shipbuilder Naval Group is also among the lead contenders for the Philippine Navy’s submarine acquisition program, which aims to deliver the country’s first-ever submarines.