Foundation for the National Interest PH
Think-tanks conclude Philippines-Australia Dialogue 2021 with Recommendations for the Future
On Thursday, 30 September 2021, the Foundation for National Interest (FNI) and Griffith Asia Institute (GAI) concluded the Philippines-Australia Dialogue 2021 with recommendations for the future, taking into consideration the geopolitical environment, the global pandemic situation, and the road to economic recovery.
In its 4th and last session, the Dialogue featured the following speakers: Palawan 2nd district Representative, Hon. Cyrille “Beng” Abueg-Zaldivar; Professor Herman Kraft of theUniversity of the Philippines; Professor Jacinta Carroll of the Australian National University; Philippine Ambassador to Australia, H.E. Maria Hellen De La Vega; and Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, H.E. Steven Robinson.
In her Keynote Address, Rep. Zaldivar said the bilateral relations cover multiple domains from defense and security cooperation, trade partnership, public health, cybersecurity, and educational exchanges. These multiple domains offer numerous opportunities for further deepening and strengthening of the relations. As a legislator, shealso mentioned some of the priorities of the House of Representatives: enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness, improving Maritime Border Protection, and extending the scope of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement / Status of Visiting Forces Agreement to include transnational issues and non-traditional security threats. All of these have an impact on the bilateral relationship and could be taken on as potential areas for collaboration.
Professor Kraft said the strategic environment remains challenging as we face the repercussions of the intense political dynamics between the United States and China. ThePhilippines and Australia share a common interest to maintain stability in the Asia-Pacificregion and continue to find ways to work together, e.g. the recent signing of the PH-AUS Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, which aims to increase interoperability between thetwo militaries. According to Professor Kraft, “Australia can help the Philippines become a better partner”. Prof. Kraft concluded his remarks by pointing out that the Philippines’ capabilities are lacking in many respects and that these can be improved by Australian assistance to upgrade capabilities and developing expertise of the Philippine military/security forces, cybertechnology, etc.
Professor Jacinta Carroll discussed the terrorism trends that both the Philippines andAustralia face, i.e. Islamic extremism and the need to have a broad-based response to these broad-based threats identified. She likewise shared the accomplishments of Philippine and Australian security forces such as the joint cyber online investigations and the joint cyber national emergency response teams. Australia and the Philippines complement each other as evident in their joint activities; there is a good partnership here and more importantly this is not development aid because we see each other as equals, Prof. Carroll pointed out.
Fresh from the Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting held in August 2021, Philippine Ambassador De La Vega shared the principles that will guide the future direction and the strategic partnership of the two countries. Among these principles are the primacy of ASEAN and ASEAN-led mechanisms. She said, “ASEAN is steadfast in protecting the principle of international law; and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation is the foundation ofpeace and stability in the region.” In addition, both the Philippines and Australia are maritime nations that respect the rules-based regime. She further emphasized that Australia is the Philippines’ 2nd largest defense partner and one of two SOVFA partners; the defense cooperation has proved to be flexible and agile; and both security forces continue to progress with capacity building and information sharing projects.
According to Australian Ambassador Robinson, both sides are working towards the elevation of the bilateral relations to a Strategic Partnership and this reflects the expansion of our engagement. “Our relations have broadened, strengthened and matured”, he said. Among the various aspects of the relations, he underlined the importance of economic recovery which will benefit from the rules-based multilateral trade arrangements we have, e.g. ASEAN-New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Area. In terms of COVID Assistance, he discussed the Australian donations to COVAX and the Australian logistical support given to the Philippines.
Session 2 of this Dialogue was held on 03 September 2021 focusing on the underlying importance of alliances and partnership with due regard to the current regional dynamics. The panelists for Session 2 include Dr. Euan Graham, Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore; and Atty. Neil Silva, Senior Researcher at the University of the Philippines-Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea.
Session 3 was held on 09 September 2021 with discussions revolving on the Philippines and Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Panelists were Dr. Rosemarie Edillon, Undersecretary for Policy and Planning of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA); and Dr. Sara Davies, Professor of Government and International Relations of Griffith University. With the recent events in Afghanistan, a supplemental discussion was conducted with emphasis on regional security threats in the Keynote Address given by Major General (Ret.) Adam Findlay. Additional information were also provided by Col. Paul Barta, Defense Attaché of the Australian Embassy in Manila.
All of the Dialogue’s four sessions were attended by government officials, members of the academe, and think tanks from both the Philippines and Australia. Scholars of the Philippine Public Safety College’s Master in Public Safety Administration Program likewise attended the 4th session.
The Philippines-Australia Dialogue is a testament to the strong people-to-people ties between the two countries. FNI and GAI hope to conduct the next Dialogue in Manila or in Brisbane next year or when conditions permit.
Screenshots of the event found below.