MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Two Australian navy vessels arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday for a goodwill visit as Australia seeks an increased security presence and greater influence in the region.
HMAS Adelaide, a landing helicopter dock, and HMAS Darwin, a guided missile frigate, docked at Manila's harbor. Philippine navy officials and Australia's ambassador to the Philippines, Amanda Gorley, welcomed the crew of the ships, which are part of the Australian defense force joint task group Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2017.
President Rodrigo Duterte later toured the Adelaide, thanking Gorely and its officers and crew for visiting Manila. He said it was crucial for Australia, the Philippines and other countries, including the United States and China, to jointly confront regional threats such as that posed by North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un.
"I hope it would not deteriorate into something violent, but you can never know what's in the criminal mind," Duterte said. Governments should support each other "to show to this one guy that he has to stop threatening the world because he runs the risk of being destroyed first."
"China appears to be the only monkey wrench in the violent plans of Kim," Duterte said.
The Australian contingent head, Capt. Jonathan Earley, said before Duterte's visit that the aim of the ships' tour around the region "is to demonstrate Australian commitment to supporting regional security and regional stability." Earley said exercises planned with the Philippine military in Manila and in western Subic Bay will focus on humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
Gorley said the ship visit "is a symbol of the strong defense ties between Australia and the Philippines, which just get deeper and deeper." She said through the joint activities during the visit, the two countries can pursue their shared objective of ensuring maritime security and regional stability.
But Earley said freedom of navigation in the contested South China Sea — an issue that Australia does not takes sides in — is not a focus of the ships' deployment.
"Certainly what I can say is that we do have a strong interest in regional security and respect for international law, and that certainly includes the freedom of trade, and the ability to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight where required," he said.