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Expert: PH should explore more VFA-type pacts

With other Asia Pacific nations to counter China’s expansion in WPS

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By Roy Mabasa

The Philippines should explore more Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)-type pacts with other countries in Asia Pacific to counter China’s continuing expansion in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS), a security and international studies expert said over the weekend.

MB FILE—A file photo of Scarborough Shoal taken during aerial inspection conducted by the Philippine Navy with Manila Bulletin correspondent assigned to take photo. The Scarborough Shoal is situated at the West Philippine Sea, 198 kilometer west of Subic Bay with an estimated area of 150 square kilometers. It has rich maritime resources, which why Chinese ships are currently engaging in illegal activities within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. (Photo by: ERWIN G. BELEO) Manila Bulletin

Scarborough Shoal (ERWIN G. BELEO / Manila Bulletin File Photo)

Speaking at the Albert Del Rosario Institute (ADRI) roundtable discussion, Dr. Renato De Castro of the De La Salle University International Studies said one of the possibilities is a common VFA with Japan and Australia or a trilateral deal among the three countries.

“Japan and Australia hold a common view on the importance of encouraging third countries in playing active roles in regional security and the need to develop closer ties with them,” De Castro added.

In 2007, the Philippine Senate has ratified the Philippine-Australia Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), a bilateral pact concerning the status of armed forces from each state while in the territory of the other. The agreement was signed in Canberra, Australia on May 31, 2007 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

One variation, De Castro points out, is for the Philippines to consider either “negotiating or signing a separate VFA with Japan or it may extend its existing VFA with Australia to include Japan.”

Another arrangement is something like the Democratic Security Diamond, an informal partnership among Australia, Japan, India and the United States, which De Castro said could help the Philippines enhance its maritime capabilities and contribute to the establishment of a rules-based order in the region.

For its part, the ADRI said the Democratic Security Diamond is relevant to the Philippines in order to develop and enhance its maritime capabilities in the face of China’s expansion in East Asia.

It specifically cited capacity building efforts and attempting to reorganize regional security architecture through establishing a rules-based order in East Asia as vital to countering China’s growing threat.

“Maximizing the Japan-Australia Strategic Partnership efforts for capacity building in parallel with healthy relationships with the US will greatly benefit Philippine interests.”

In December 2012, Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe proposed the Democratic Security Diamond as a strategy where Australia, India, Japan and the US state of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard maritime commons stretching from Indian Ocean to Western Pacific.

But on the sidelines of the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Vietnam, US President Donald J. Trump put forward a broad vision of an “Indo-Pacific dream,” a post pivot to Asia strategy that would also include the participation of Japan, India and Australia.

Security experts believed that the Indo-Pacific strategy is aimed to counterbalance China’s emerging power in the region, especially in the South China Sea.

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