Historically, Philippine-Australian relations have been more than cordial.
Next to the United States and Great Britain, Australia has been a close and dependable partner in the economic growth and development of the country.
It is a major source of development aid, investments, trade, and other economic exchanges between Manila and Canberra.
Many Filipinos are either working in Australia or permanently settled there while Australian businessmen are running profitable corporations and industrial ventures in the country.
In the diplomatic front, however, bilateral ties have taken on a love-hate rollercoaster ride.
During the presidential campaign, Australian leaders and diplomats were upset by then candidate Rodrigo Duterte’s “impolitic” remarks about a female Australian rape victim.
Subsequent verbal exchanges have ruffled diplomatic feathers on both sides.
Now, another Australian official has criticized the President’s initiatives on the matter of the South China Sea territorial row.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has questioned President Duterte’s recent pronouncements that would not seem to reinforce the arbitration ruling favoring the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute.
Australia’s Financial Review quoted Bishop as saying she was informed of Duterte’s announcement that the Philippines, “as a claimant state” and as the country “that instigated” the arbitration, “will not be sending their ships into contested areas.”
“So the question should be directed to the Philippines as to what they are doing to reinforce the arbitration findings,” Bishop said in the article.
This mildly acerbic tone could potentially trigger another round of the President’s legendary verbal fits against a supposed close ally and partner.
We can only hope the lady minister would clarify and moderate her comments about diplomatic issues of which Australia has no part in.
Duterte said Tuesday he would not allow government forces to conduct joint patrols of disputed waters near the South China Sea with foreign powers and that he was also considering acquiring defense equipment from Russia and China.
Explaining his stand, Duterte said joint patrols with foreign powers like the United States and China could entangle the Philippines in hostilities.
“Well aren’t you surprised that the Philippines is now not going to traverse the territory that the arbitration has just found is in the Philippines EEZ (exclusive economic zone)? And that the arbitration found that China was in breach of the Philippines sovereignty?” Bishop asked.
“And now the Philippines have said they withdraw from those contested areas the arbitration has found were within the Philippines EEZ?” she added.
Bishop emphasized the Philippines “is a claimant state” when asked whether she was suggesting the Philippines to be more active in the South China Sea.
In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that China’s claim over the whole of the South China Sea using the “nine-dash line” did not have any legal basis.