Manila (Philippines): Two Australian navy vessels, including a helicopter dock and a guided missile frigate, arrived on Tuesday in the Philippines for a five-day goodwill visit as Australia seeks an increased security presence and greater influence in the region.
Her Majesty’s Australian Ship Adelaide, a landing helicopter dock, and HMAS Darwin, a guided missile frigate, docked at Manila’s harbour. Philippine navy officials and Australia’s ambassador to the Philippines, Amanda Gorley, welcomed the crew of the ships, which are part of the Australian defence force joint task group Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2017.
“The principal aim of the deployment as we tour around the region is to demonstrate Australian commitment to supporting regional security and regional stability,” said the contingent head, Capt. Jonathan Earley. He said a number of exercises planned with the Philippine armed forces in Manila and in western Subic Bay will focus on humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
Gorley said the ship visit “is a symbol of the strong defence ties between Australia and the Philippines, which just get deeper and deeper.” She said through joint activities during the visit, Australia and the Philippines can work together to pursue their shared objective of ensuring maritime security and regional stability.
Freedom of navigation in regional waters will be included in maritime security and regional stability, Gorley said when asked if Australia’s Indo-Pacific Endeavor would include freedom of navigation operations in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
But Earley said freedom of navigation in the South China Sea — an issue that Australia does not takes sides in — is not a focus of their deployment.
“Certainly what I can say is that we do have a strong interest in regional security and respect for international law, and that certainly includes the freedom of trade, and the ability to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight where required,” he said.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Friday that a policy paper to be released later this year would spell out guidelines on how Australia can maximise and exercise power and influence to defend a rules-based international order and to dissuade others seeking to undermine it.