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Australia and the Philippines announced Saturday the start of joint air and sea patrols off the Southeast Asian nation, as they seek to deepen their defence cooperation to counter China’s assertiveness in the region. The “maritime cooperative activity” comes days after the United States held a similar exercise with the Philippines in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely. In a joint statement, the Australian and Philippine defence chiefs said the three-day patrols showed their “shared commitment to exercising freedom of navigation and overflight consistent with international law”. The Philippines will deploy two navy vessels and five surveillance aircraft to join Australia’s HMAS Toowoomba warship and a P-8A maritime surveillance aircraft. The maritime patrols will be held inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, Philippine defence spokesman Arsenio Andolong said. In September, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos signed a strategic partnership that enabled the expansion of cooperation in several areas from defence and security to climate change and education. Marcos said Saturday the joint patrols were “a practical manifestation of the growing and deepening strategic and defense partnership between our countries”. “We endeavor to enhance bilateral interoperability in maritime security and domain awareness,” Marcos said on the social media platform X. The long-anticipated Philippine patrols with the United States and Australia follow a spike in tensions between Beijing and Manila over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing’s expansive claims over the waterway approach the coasts of other countries — more than a thousand kilometres from the nearest major Chinese landmass. It has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its claims have no legal basis. China deploys boats to patrol the sea and has built artificial islands that it has militarised to reinforce its claims. Marcos warned on Sunday that the Chinese military had “started to show interest” in building bases on reefs that were “closer and closer to the Philippine coastline”.

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