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Philippines, France initiate talks on visiting forces deal

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and France have agreed to ramp up military ties, including possible negotiations to allow soldiers from each country into the other’s territory.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and his French counterpart, Minister Sebastien Lecornu, signed a letter of intent in Taguig City yesterday to boost bilateral defense cooperation.

“We intend to take concrete steps to levelling up and making more comprehensive our defense cooperation,” Teodoro told a joint press conference. That includes seeking authority from their leaders to negotiate a status of visiting forces agreement, he said.

The Philippines has such agreements with the United States and Australia, and recently initiated talks with Japan for a reciprocal access agreement.

Lecornu’s visit is the first leg of his trip across the Indo-Pacific, with stops in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, as well as Malaysia.

“We are working on an agenda of strengthening our presence in the Indo-Pacific,” Lecornu said.

France considers itself an Indo-Pacific power, with over 7,000 troops stationed in overseas territories in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The Philippines has been ramping up military ties with several countries in a bid to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, where the two countries have a longstanding maritime dispute.

Manila’s claims are backed by a 2016 international tribunal’s ruling, which rejected China’s claims to almost all the South China Sea, where several other countries also assert claims.

The Philippines recently began joint patrols in the South China Sea waters with the US and Australia.