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AS--Philippines-France-Defense Chiefs  12/02 06:58


   MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- France and the Philippines are considering a 
defense pact that would allow them to send military forces to each other's 
territory for joint exercises, the Philippine defense chief said Saturday after 
holding talks with his French counterpart.

   Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said in a joint press conference with French Minister 
for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu that they were seeking authorization 
from their heads of state to begin negotiations.

   "We intend to take concrete steps into leveling up and making more 
comprehensive our defense cooperation, principally by working to get 
authorization from our respective heads of state and relevant agencies to begin 
negotiations for a status of visiting forces agreement," Teodoro said.

   "The first goal is to create interoperability or a strategic closeness 
between both armed forces, see how both navies work together, how air forces 
work together," Lecornu said through an interpreter.

   The Philippines has such an agreement -- which provides a legal framework 
for visits of foreign troops -- only with the United States, its longtime 
treaty ally, and with Australia. Negotiations between the Philippines and Japan 
are also underway for a reciprocal access agreement that would allow Japanese 
and Philippine troop deployments to one another for military exercises and 
other security activities.

   The Philippine and French defense chiefs agreed to deepen defense 
cooperation, including by boosting intelligence and information exchanges to 
address security threats, Teodoro said.

   They agreed to sustain Philippine and French ship visits and underscored the 
importance of upholding international law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention 
on the Law of the Sea, he said.

   That language has often been used by the U.S. and the Philippines, along 
with their allies, in their criticism of China for its increasingly aggressive 
actions in the disputed South China Sea.

   France has deployed its navy ships to the South China Sea to promote freedom 
of navigation and push back against Chinese expansionism. China claims 
virtually the entire waterway and has constructed island bases protected by a 
missile system in the past decade, alarming smaller claimant states, including 
the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

   Washington has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the 
Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and 
aircraft come under armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

   The Philippines recently staged joint air and naval patrols separately with 
the U.S. and Australia in the South China Sea, provoking an angry reaction from 
China, which warned that the joint patrols should not harm its sovereignty and 
territorial interests.

   Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said Friday that the joint 
patrols with U.S. and Australia would continue and could be expanded to include 
other friendly nations like Japan.

   Ano spoke to invited journalists on Thitu Island, a Philippine-occupied 
island in the South China Sea, where he led the inauguration of a new coast 
guard monitoring station that would be equipped with a radar, satellite 
communications, coastal cameras and ship-tracking equipment to help counter 
what he described as China's "pure bullying."



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