Jun 14, 2024

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly hosted Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo in Ottawa on May 8, 2024. Photo from Twitter of Enrique Manalo.

June 1, 2024 — The Philippines and Canada have affirmed their commitment to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, home to more than half of the world’s population.

Both nations also welcomed Canada’s participation in the recent and biggest joint military exercises so far between the Philippines and the two countries’ closest defence ally, the U.S.

These two points were among the issues taken up in a May 8, 2024 meeting in Ottawa between Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.

Global Affairs Canada released a readout or official summary of the meeting hosted by Joly on May 8.

“The Ministers reaffirmed the two countries’ commitment to working together to uphold peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and welcomed further Canadian Armed Forces participation in multilateral exercises led by the Philippines and other partners,” the statement noted.

Canada is a Pacific nation, and it has been moving to secure and advance its economic and security interests, through its Indo-Pacific Strategy that was launched on November 27, 2022.

The Indo-Pacific is the site of geopolitical rivalries, including the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea is being claimed in whole by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Five other nations have claims in the area, namely, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Tensions have flared between China and the Philippines in connection with the Second Thomas Shoal, which the Philippines calls the Ayungin Shoal.

In 1999, the Philippine Navy deliberately grounded Philippine military ship Sierra Madre on the Second Thomas Shoal, and the decaying vessel has since served as the country’s outpost in the contested waters.

A squad of Philippine Marines has been stationed at Sierra Madre.

The Second Thomas Shoal lies within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the EEZ as a zone in the sea over which a sovereign nation has certain rights.

These rights include, among others, use of marine resources and extraction of oil and gas.

The Philippines has been sending boats to supply the Marines at Sierra Madre, resulting in confrontations with Chinese vessels. On December 12, 2023, Global Affairs Canada issued a statement condemning actions by China (PRC) against Philippine vessels at the Second Thomas Shoal on December 10 that year.

The statement also condemned Chinese actions on December 9, 2023 at the Scarborough Shoal, also located in the South China and which the Philippines calls as Bajo de Masinloc.

“The use of dangerous maneuvers, collisions, water cannons and long-range acoustic devices against Philippine vessels endangers lives and poses a serious threat to regional peace and stability. These incidents are the latest in an increasingly worrisome pattern of acts of intimidation by the PRC in the South China Sea,” Global Affairs Canada said in the statement.

“The PRC’s actions demonstrate a clear disregard for navigational rights and freedoms and are inconsistent with its obligations under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Canada reiterates that the 2016 ruling of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal in the matter of the South China Sea is binding on the parties.”

The said 2016 UNCLOS arbitral ruling rejected China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.

The readout from Joly and Manalo’s meeting in Ottawa on May 8 also made a reference to UNCLOS.

“The Ministers reaffirmed the two countries’ shared commitment to upholding democracy, sovereignty, multilateralism, and emphasized the importance of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

The Philippines and Canada are boosting their defense partnership.

On January 19, 2024, Philippine Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. and Canadian ambassador David Bruce Hartman, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that could potentially see greater cooperation between their military forces.

"I'm glad to hear that there is a strong intention on both sides to deepen and strengthen the relationships by forging new milestones in our defence relations to culminate, perhaps, with the Visiting Forces Agreement [VFA]," Teodoro said in a statement.

The Philippines has Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S., which governs visiting military and civilian personnel temporarily present in the United States and the Philippines.

The Philippines and U.S. held Balikatan 2024, their biggest military exercise so far, from April 22 to May 10, 2024 amid tensions in the contested South China Sea. “Balikatan” is a Filipino word meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder”. 

Canada, which is looking to strengthen military relations with the Philippines, participated in Balikatan 2024 as an observer.


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