Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III welcomed the strengthening ties between the U.S. and Philippines as he met with Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. in Jakarta, Indonesia, today.
During their discussion, the secretaries applauded the “historic momentum” in the alliance, “which has upheld peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for over seventy years,” according to a joint summary of the meeting.
“The secretaries highlighted the recent progress the two countries have made to modernize the alliance, enhance interoperability and address new and emerging challenges,” the summary reads.
The two countries have made recent advances in implementing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. A key pillar of the alliance outlines steps to enhance combined U.S.-Philippine military capabilities.
That progress includes the recent completion of a $24 million upgrade to the runway at Basa Air Base in the Philippines.
“They committed to explore further opportunities to strengthen bilateral operations and planning, including through the upcoming Balikatan 2024 exercise, and noted their desire to expand multilateral activities with like-minded partners,” according to the summary.
The secretaries also discussed recent provocations by China during the meeting.
Those include China’s dangerous maneuvers against U.S. aircraft and ships operating in the South China Sea and the importance of “preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows,” according to the summary.
Both leaders also condemned the recent harassment of Philippine Coast Guard and resupply vessels conducting lawful resupply operations near the Second Thomas Shoal, an area in the South China Sea within the Philippines’ U.N.-sanctioned exclusive economic zone.
“Secretary Austin reiterated President Biden’s message that the U.S. defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad and emphasized that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone,” according to the meeting summary.
The two leaders met as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus. The summit includes representation from China, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand in addition to the 10 ASEAN member states and the U.S.
Austin’s attendance at the 3-day session caps his ninth official visit to the Indo-Pacific, which also included stops in India and South Korea.
A senior defense official previewing Austin’s schedule in Jakarta said the secretary’s engagement with the Southeast Asian bloc is further proof of the United States’ commitment to the region.
The U.S., the official said, is “demonstrating that commitment through action and engagement—not just through rhetoric.”
The official added that recognition of that commitment is being met by a growing demand from countries in the region to deepen their ties with the U.S.
Those deepening ties are critical in Southeast Asia, which defense officials note ranks among the fastest growing, youngest and most diverse regions within the Indo-Pacific.
“When you look at the trajectory of where the Indo-Pacific is headed over the next two decades, Southeast Asia—and ASEAN as a collective—is becoming an increasingly important player and will continue to in the future,” a second official said.
This is a part of the world where half of the population of Southeast Asia is under the age of 30,” the official added. “If you look at the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia [they are] some of the fastest growing economies right now. And when you see what the United States is doing in terms of supply chain diversification, a lot of that is coming to this part of the world.”
The officials added that in addition to the strong economic growth, there is significant focus throughout the region on military modernization efforts.
“These are partnerships that we’re going to be continuing to invest in further, and have already invested in a lot,” the official said.