Robust PH-France multi-dimensional partnership is necessary, valuable | Inquirer Opinion

Robust PH-France multi-dimensional partnership is necessary, valuable

/ 11:52 AM December 19, 2023
Bilateral meeting between Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto C Teodoro, Jr and French Minister for the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu
Bilateral meeting between Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto C Teodoro, Jr and French Minister for the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FRENCH EMBASSY

On December 2, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro Jr. met with French Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu to discuss and explore new areas of security and defense cooperation as the Indo-Pacific geopolitical landscape continued to shift and impact international law.

Among the topics that the senior officials discussed to bolster Philippine-France defense partnership was the nod to negotiations for a status of visiting forces agreement. Such a pact will not only expedite the deployment of French and Philippine troops.

It will also open new avenues for more sophisticated military-to-military cooperation and considerably improve both countries’ interoperability and maritime domain awareness.


A potential status of visiting forces agreement between Manila and Paris also dramatically aligns with the objectives laid forth by both sides in 2016 through a bilateral defense agreement that aimed to strengthen coordination through high-level visits, dialogues, defense policy consultations, training, capacity-building, information exchange, and naval cooperation.


More importantly, the recent high-level meeting between the defense chiefs also illustrates continuity in the current effort of Manila and Paris to maximize the use of their emerging partnership during great geopolitical uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific. 

On September 23, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the evolving security dynamics in the West Philippine Sea. 

Marcos expressed gratitude for Macron’s unequivocal support for emphasizing the significance of international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the 2016 arbitral ruling award. 

This conversation was preceded by a landmark port call by a French destroyer and its crew in Manila on June 23.  At a press conference aboard the ship, Commander of the French Armed Forces in the Asia-Pacific, Rear Admiral Geoffroy d’ Andigné stressed France’s commitment to contributing to the security of the Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law.

Thus, as the Philippines continues to deepen and broaden its ties with like-minded traditional and non-traditional partners like the United States, Japan, Australia, India, and Canada, tapping the value of a strong and multifaceted Manila-Paris partnership is equally necessary. 

In addition to being a European power, France is also a resident Indo-Pacific power as it maintains extensive territories in the Western Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.


Along with a population of over 1.6 million French people in the Indo-Pacific, approximately 8,000 French soldiers are also permanently deployed across the region, while 18 defense attachés are in 33 Indo-Pacific countries. 

More importantly, compared to other European powers that seek to deepen their presence in the Indo-Pacific solely for commercial interests, France’s steadfast desire to improve its diplomatic and political standing in the region can be viewed from a largely security-driven lens since only 8 percent of French commercial goods pass through the South China Sea. This illustrates Paris’ undeniable stake in safeguarding the rules-based security architecture of the Indo-Pacific.

France was also one of the first European countries to outline a clear Indo-Pacific strategy, which aims to bolster its role as a responsible security and development partner by forging robust partnerships with like-minded resident countries and regional institutions.

While France is still slowly but steadily breaking into Southeast Asia’s defense market with major deals with Indonesia and Malaysia, its technological advancements and capabilities in food and environmental security must also be given great attention.

As an archipelagic nation constantly vulnerable to threatening environmental conditions, the Philippines must redirect its foreign policy goals to encompass climate and food security.

France has been leading the fight against climate change by building the capacities of developing countries in Asia and Africa and assisting them in reforming their policies to achieve a pragmatic balance that prioritizes both long-term ecological and short to mid-term economic concerns. 

Accordingly, Manila can benefit from its growing ties with Paris. For instance, on January 13,  2022, France provided nearly P9 billion in policy-based loans to assist the Philippines in expanding efforts to alleviate and address the impacts of environmental degradation. 

Apart from its contributions to environmental security, France is also a recognized global leader in sustainable farming through its robust and comprehensive policy responses. Macron’s €5 billion investment plan for France’s agricultural sector adds an additional layer to the country’s desire to empower its farmers and improve domestic agriculture outputs.

In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, France is the leading  European agricultural producer. In addition, data from Climate Trace also indicates how France can increase its outputs sustainably while steadily decreasing its agriculture sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Such expertise is of vital importance to the Philippines at a time when the Marcos administration is seeking to strengthen the country’s agriculture industry. 

Another crucial area for cooperation between the Philippines and France lies in  France’s comprehensive expertise in managing its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

France’s functional knowledge in promoting maritime domain awareness, counterterrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking operations, and curbing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing will be of great importance to the Philippines as it is currently facing a plethora of traditional and non-traditional maritime security threats within its EEZ.

Moreover, with the second largest EEZ in the world, France crafted a unique State Action at Sea model that serves as a whole-of-government approach to address a wide range of maritime security issues such as the protection of sovereignty, sovereign rights, national interests, human security, trade, and the environment. 

Thus, as the Philippines is also formulating a maritime zone bill, coordinating with France on best practices will also be crucial. 

Further, what makes France a natural and practical partner of the Philippines is Paris’ vision for an inclusive Indo-Pacific, where individual sovereignty and political autonomy will be prioritized over a bloc politics approach of external engagement. This coincides well with Marcos’ emphasis on strategy that great power politics should not define Philippine foreign policy because it has its agency and independence.

With an alignment in political visions, security and development interests, and shared concerns for the Indo-Pacific, strengthening the Philippines-France partnership in various areas will be a natural and practical step for both countries amid the region’s complex and unfolding geopolitical and economic landscape.

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Don McLain Gill is a Manila-based geopolitical analyst, author, and lecturer at the Department of International Studies, De La Salle University

TAGS: PH-France relations

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