Secretary of Foreign Affairs

On the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) Enhanced Trilateral Security Partnership

19 September 2021

The Philippines welcomes Australia’s decision to establish an enhanced trilateral security partnership with the United States primarily and the United Kingdom. 

ASEAN member states, singly and collectively, do not possess the military wherewithal to maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia, discourage the sudden creation of crises therein, and avoid disproportionate and hasty responses by rival great powers. Preventive diplomacy and the rule of law do not stand alone in the maintenance of peace and security. 

There is an imbalance in the forces available to the ASEAN member states, with the main balancer more than half a world away. The enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it. Despite advances in military science, time and distance, and the concomitant stopping power of water, remain major constants in determining security capacity to respond appropriately to threats.

Proximity breeds brevity in response time; thereby enhancing an ASEAN near friend and ally’s military capacity to respond in timely and commensurate fashion to a threat to the region or a challenge to the status quo. This requires enhancing Australia’s ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration. 

On the other hand, distance breeds delay in responding to an incident or series of incidents that bode a significant shift in the power equation advantageous to one great power but highly disadvantageous to the other power distant from the troubled scene. It is unlikely and uncharacteristic for the disadvantaged power in this case to acquiesce rather than respond to the sudden imbalance with less than a disproportionately stronger response before the imbalance hardens into geopolitical fait accompli. 

In that regard, we believe that the fresh enhancement of Australia’s military capacity through this trilateral security partnership would be beneficial in the long term even to the other side if only for the additional time it affords all protagonists for reflection before reacting. 

Australia’s actions reflect its concerns about this geographic imbalance and its desire to help maintain regional peace and security. That is its prerogative. Absent actual presence of nuclear weapons, we cannot infer violation of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty. We are open to discussing this with other governments. We appreciate Australia’s continued and absolute commitment to meeting its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to the highest standards of nuclear stewardship. 

The dynamics and wide geographic reach of the Indo-Pacific require multilateral groupings that are flexible and adaptable, in membership, strategic aims and the appropriate wherewithal to respond to changes in the regional military balance. For the Philippines, what is essential is Australia’s commitment to the primacy of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN-led mechanisms. None of these mechanisms are compromised, weakened or in conflict with the enhancement of Australia’s ability to respond; quite the contrary. 

The Philippines aspires for the South China Sea to remain a sea of peace, security, stability, and prosperity. We are acutely aware of great power dynamics; with a sharp eye we will engage in practical and mutually beneficial cooperation aligned with the priority areas of the Outlook. END