Fortifying France-PH ties in Indo-Pacific

Prof. Dindo Manhit, President of Stratbase ADR Institute

The balance of power and the dynamics between states in the Indo-Pacific have continued to shift due to the region’s evolving security landscape. Power shifts, territorial disputes, and potential conflicts prompt states to recalibrate their existing policies based on the perceived and real impact of these developments on their economic growth and national interests. Moreover, emerging security challenges highlight the critical importance of multilateral cooperation in maintaining peace and stability in the region.

Over the years, regional players such as France have become a contributory force for stability in the Indo-Pacific. For instance, the French government announced an Indo-Pacific strategy in 2018 to expand its role in the region, providing solutions to regional challenges, particularly in the area of defense and security.

In an effort to become an inclusive and mediating power in the Indo-Pacific, France has redirected its diplomatic initiatives and policies to promote a multipolar order that is founded on the rule of law and multilateralism. It envisions a region wherein states advance shared democratic values and governments abide by international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In the context of maritime security, France has continued to work with countries like the Philippines to address urgent challenges and enhance maritime safety in the region. To strengthen defense cooperation, both countries have carefully considered the possibility of conducting joint patrols in their respective exclusive economic zones. They have also expressed their willingness to foster long-term cooperation in areas, such as humanitarian aid and disaster response.

As it strives to become a maritime power, the Philippines has increased its efforts to foster cooperation with various regional players. The country’s defense establishments have sought the acquisition of submarines and other naval assets in order to increase its capacity to respond to maritime threats. However, due to financial constraints, the Philippine government’s goal of developing a credible submarine force remains a key challenge.

The Department of National Defense currently anticipates getting adequate funding from the new administration to support the continuation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ revised modernization program. Under its modernization program, the AFP aims to acquire its first submarine during the Horizon 3 phase of the program (2023- 2027).

The diplomatic relations between France and the Philippines date back to the 1947 Treaty of Amity in Paris. Since then, and after the historic state visit of then French President François Hollande to the Philippines in 2015, the relationship has continued to thrive. It has now evolved and prospered toward a commitment to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, upholding international law, the conduct of joint action to mitigate climate change, and promoting cultural exchanges between the French and Filipino people.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations toward bolstering shared commitments. According to French ambassador to the Philippines Michèle Boccoz, the shared history and values of France and the Philippines will continue to unite and form the foundation of the partnership. The French ambassador believes that in the coming years, the two countries will be able to advance common interests and strengthen their relations.

To fortify this bilateral relationship and the shared commitments to rules-based order and multilateralism, the Stratbase Group will host an event on Sept. 14 under the patronage of the French Embassy in Manila, themed “Revolutionizing the Philippine Defense Posture with France in the Indo-Pacific.” The event will highlight the countries’ prospective actions, strategies, and initiatives in defending international law and multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific.

The Filipino nation hopes that bolstering bilateral relations with France will promote the country’s strategic interests, especially in safeguarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer commentary.

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