France relevant to PHL security

France relevant to PHL security

A GEOPOLITICAL expert on Sunday said the Philippines’ growing security partnership with France boosts Manila’s Indo-Pacific push.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Eduardo C. Teodoro, Jr. and visiting French Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu on Saturday signed a letter of intent to boost bilateral defense cooperation.

In the document, the two countries expressed their intent to pursue negotiations for a visiting forces agreement.

“France is the most practical and natural partner the Philippines can have in Europe. France is not only European, but also Indo-Pacific, by virtue of geography,” Don Mclain Gill, a foreign relations lecturer at De La Salle University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

France was one of the first countries in Europe to craft a forward looking Indo-Pacific strategy that banked on engaging with like-minded regional partners in Southeast Asia through shared interests and concerns, and without compromising sovereignty and political autonomy,” he added.

In a joint press conference, Mr. Teodoro said he and his French counterpart “intend to take concrete steps to level up and make more comprehensive our defense cooperation,” vowing to push for a negotiation for a status of visiting forces agreement.

The Philippines has that kind of agreement with the United States and Australia. It is currently in talks with Japan for a similar pact.

The Philippines is the first stop of the French official in his grand trip across the Indo-Pacific. He’s set to visit the French overseas territory of New Caledonia as well as Malaysia.

Mr. Lecornu said the French government is “working on an agenda of strengthening our presence in the Indo-Pacific.”

France, which has more than 7,000 troops in its overseas territories in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, considers itself an Indo-Pacific power.

The region has been beset by China’s aggression in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait as well as nuclear threats from North Korea.

The Philippines under the Marcos leadership has pushed for more foreign security partnerships amid China’s incursions into the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. The country has been backed by the international community in the sea dispute, due in large part to its arbitral victory in 2016 that invalidated China’s expansive claims.

“France’s formidable material capabilities in defence and technology should be leveraged by Manila,” Mr. Gill said. “Both Paris and Manila share similar visions in keeping the region safe, inclusive, secure, and rules-based.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza