THE visit of the French Navy’s light patrol frigate to the Philippines shows France as a “Pacific power” that is committed to “security” and adherence to the principle of freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia, officials said after the Vendmiaire docked at a port in Manila on Monday.
In his speech, Rear Admiral Denis Bertrand said the freedom of navigation was based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), saying that not only does this apply to Southeast Asian nations but worldwide.
“You know that France has the only permanent force here in the Pacific Ocean. We are probably the only European nation that sends every year a first rank naval unit such as destroyers, amphibious units and so on in this region,” said Betrand at Pier 13.
At the same time, Betrand said that France intended to establish cooperation with its “friends” in Southeast Asia.
In a separate speech, French Ambassador to the Philippines Nicolas Galey said that the docking of the French Navy ship in Manila showed that France was fully playing its role “as a Pacific power.”
He said that last week, a “high-level” delegation from the French Ministry of Defense came to Manila to participate in the formation of a cooperation committee between the two countries.
“A few days after this important meeting, the port crew of Vendemiaire [went]there for another demonstration of France’s military commitment to the security in Southeast Asia even as our Armed Forces are heavily engaged in the fighting against terrorism in Africa and in the Middle East,” Galey said.
“As the Vendemiaire comes to Manila, this is a clear and concrete expression of the friendship between our two countries and our common will to work together for our mutual security and that of the [Southeast Asian] region,” he added.
In a press conference after the speeches, Galey did not elaborate on the discussion on the committee formed by Paris and Manila but said that it would focus on addressing threats surrounding the region such as drug smuggling, terrorism, respect for international maritime laws in the West Philippine Sea and even climate change.
“The objective was to set the main principles and fields of cooperation that we will develop with the Philippines in all fields…Although, you know what makes the relationship between the two countries in these areas,” he told reporters.
The visit comes as Manila is locked in a dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.
China has claimed some of the islands that were well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone by building military structures, which the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been unable to stop. This is even after an international court ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016, granting the it sovereign rights to the disputed territories. DEMPSEY REYES