MANILA, Philippines — Following President Duterte’s challenge to Western powers to help the Philippines tackle China, France emphasized it is committed to promote and defend international law and its Navy will continue patrolling the South China Sea.
French Secretary of State Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said France made clear during the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last month that it would maintain its operations in the South China Sea to preserve free and open access to the seas.
“France is very committed to promote and defend the rule of international law. That’s why our Navy is very often patrolling, cruising in the South China Sea and we will continue,” Lemoyne told reporters on Friday.
“You know we are part of the Indo-Pacific because we have territories. We have 7,000 soldiers in the Indo-Pacific and it’s a proof of our commitment to be sure that freedom of navigation is a fact, is real in the sea,” he added.
Duterte had dared the US and its allies Britain and France to help the Philippines stop China. He reiterated that the Philippines could not stop China from its activities in disputed waters and could not enforce a fishing ban within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
France, according to Lemoyne, is one of the few countries that can design and build some military systems.
“It’s very interesting for some countries that’s why I understood that the Philippines is interested in strengthening the cooperation in this field with France,” Lemoyne said. “The Philippines has to state what is the need, what they want and of course we will apply to fulfill these needs.”
Lemoyne visited Manila from June 27 to 28 to co-chair, together with Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, the 8th Joint Economic Committee. The work focused on prospects for economic cooperation, notably in the areas of infrastructure, transport, renewable energy and agriculture.
During his visit, Lemoyne also met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to discuss areas of bilateral cooperation and to highlight the close attention France pays to the human rights situation.
The meeting was an opportunity to discuss security issues, notably in the maritime field and with respect to the fight against terrorism and the cooperation projects between France and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including in the area of environmental protection.
The French embassy in Manila said the discussions are consistent with France’s inclusive vision of the Indo-Pacific region, with ASEAN at its center.
Lemoyne also met with French non-government organizations, which have a strong presence in the Philippines, in order to reaffirm support for their work.