The Philippines is poised to become strategically more important to Australia, leading to opportunities for intensified defence cooperation. At a recent dialogue held in Manila on deepening the Australia–Philippines relationship, hosted by the Foreign Service Institute in conjunction with the Griffith Asia Institute, I spoke about the importance of taking a long-term perspective on the relationship between the two countries.

Currently, the strategic relationship seems hampered by uncertainty over the course of the Philippine government of President Rodrigo Duterte. Under his leadership, the country appears to have moved away from its traditional alliance with the United States towards closer alignment with China. Some analysts have already concluded that Manila is now tempted to ‘bandwagon’ with Beijing. Combined with human rights concerns, the Australia–Philippines relationship has been characterised by uncertainty and limited opportunities for deeper engagement.

Moreover, despite the progress made since the Philippines–Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement was ratified by the Philippines Senate in 2012, bilateral defence cooperation remains constrained. That’s particularly true in the maritime and air domain, due to capability asymmetries between the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Philippine Armed Forces (PAF). Joint maritime exercises such as Exercise Lumbas have therefore been at lower levels, focusing on maritime safety.

However, a more nuanced and long-term perspective is required to assess the Australia–Philippines strategic relationship.

Please click here to read the full “Australia–Philippines strategic relations: taking the long view” article published at The Strategist, written by Professor Benjamin Schreer.