AS--Philippines-France-Defense Chiefs 12/02 06:58
MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- France and the Philippines are considering a
defense pact that would allow them to send military forces to each other's
territory for joint exercises, the Philippine defense chief said Saturday after
holding talks with his French counterpart.
Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said in a joint press conference with French Minister
for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu that they were seeking authorization
from their heads of state to begin negotiations.
"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.
"The first goal is to create interoperability or a strategic closeness
between both armed forces, see how both navies work together, how air forces
work together," Lecornu said through an interpreter.
The Philippines has such an agreement -- which provides a legal framework
for visits of foreign troops -- only with the United States, its longtime
treaty ally, and with Australia. Negotiations between the Philippines and Japan
are also underway for a reciprocal access agreement that would allow Japanese
and Philippine troop deployments to one another for military exercises and
other security activities.
The Philippine and French defense chiefs agreed to deepen defense
cooperation, including by boosting intelligence and information exchanges to
address security threats, Teodoro said.
They agreed to sustain Philippine and French ship visits and underscored the
importance of upholding international law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention
on the Law of the Sea, he said.
That language has often been used by the U.S. and the Philippines, along
with their allies, in their criticism of China for its increasingly aggressive
actions in the disputed South China Sea.
France has deployed its navy ships to the South China Sea to promote freedom
of navigation and push back against Chinese expansionism. China claims
virtually the entire waterway and has constructed island bases protected by a
missile system in the past decade, alarming smaller claimant states, including
the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Washington has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the
Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and
aircraft come under armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
The Philippines recently staged joint air and naval patrols separately with
the U.S. and Australia in the South China Sea, provoking an angry reaction from
China, which warned that the joint patrols should not harm its sovereignty and
Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said Friday that the joint
patrols with U.S. and Australia would continue and could be expanded to include
other friendly nations like Japan.
Ano spoke to invited journalists on Thitu Island, a Philippine-occupied
island in the South China Sea, where he led the inauguration of a new coast
guard monitoring station that would be equipped with a radar, satellite
communications, coastal cameras and ship-tracking equipment to help counter
what he described as China's "pure bullying."