By Roy Mabasa
Discussions are underway for the possible Philippine procurement of French-made military equipment and material, visiting French Minister of State Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said over the weekend.
The Philippines had earlier expressed interest in acquiring French and Russian made submarines as part of the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Those discussions will continue… of course we have great expertise in a submarine and in the region, we established a strategic partnership with Australia and it’s a proof of the quality of our industry… France can establish (a) partnership in the region. The Philippines has to state what is the need, what they want and of course we will apply to fulfill these needs,” Leymone told journalists at the conclusion of the 8thPhilippines-France Joint Economic Council meeting in Makati City on Friday.
This developed as France, a country that is more than 10,300 kilometers from the South China Sea, reiterated its commitment to continue “patrolling” and “cruising” one of the world’s highly volatile waters in defense of freedom of navigation and the international law.
Lemoyne was short of responding to questions on whether France will accept the challenge posed by President Duterte for western powers like the United States, Great Britain and France to join him in challenging Chinese dominance in the South China Sea.
“France is very committed to promote and defend (the) rule of international law that’s why our navy is very often patrolling, cruising in the South China Sea and we will continue,” he said.
The French official pointed out that France, being part of the Indo-Pacific area, is strongly committed to maintain its links with countries in the region.
France administers several island territories in the Pacific and Indian oceans and maintains about 7,000 forces in those areas.
“And of course, freedom of navigation is at the heart of multilateralism, and we must ensure that freedom of navigation is effective. That’s why our navy, twice a year, cruises in the South China Sea, and we will continue,” Lemoyne said.
At the recent Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, French Defense Minister Florence Parly stressed her country’s commitment to continue its patrolling of the South China Sea, as it considers France as “part of the region.”
“France is not going anywhere, because we are part of the region. We have territories here; we have more than 1.6 million inhabitants, several islands with different statutes, vast exclusive economic zones and the responsibility that goes with the territory,” Parly said.