Earlier this month, the Philippines and Cambodia finally held the first iteration of a new defense cooperation meeting that both sides had formally agreed to back in 2017. Though few details were publicly issued about the nature of the meeting, it nonetheless highlighted the ongoing collaboration between the two countries in the security realm that has been more in the spotlight in recent years.
While the Philippines and Cambodia have a contemporary diplomatic relationship that stretches back to 1957, defense ties have developed at a much slower pace relative to other aspects of ties. Collaboration in the defense space has been quite basic, and aspects that have been previously publicly disclosed have been focused on areas like exchanges and visits, and areas such as addressing law enforcement, transnational crimes, and terrorism, amid some continued differences on issue areas such as the South China Sea.
Indeed, it was only in 2017 that both countries inked a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation, which was a testament to some of the changes in Philippine foreign policy we had seen under President Rodrigo Duterte. The landmark development came during the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties and amid the holding of just the second iteration of the wider Joint Commission for Bilateral Consultations (JCBC), with the first iteration dating back to 2011.
Earlier this month, the developing defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the holding of the inaugural iteration of the Philippines-Cambodia Joint Defense Cooperation Committee (JDCC) Meeting. The meeting took place from March 11 to March 14 in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, and it was chaired by Defense Undersecretary Ricardo A. David Jr. and Neang Phat, the secretary of state of the Cambodian defense ministry.
The meeting itself consisted of several aspects, including taking stock of ongoing collaboration, discussing future areas of cooperation and finalizing engagement activities agreed upon, and discussing regional and global issues of mutual interest. Per the official Philippine account, the meeting addressed issues that included cybersecurity, counterterrorism and violent extremism, and peacekeeping.
Unsurprisingly, few additional specifics were disclosed about the nature of the private deliberations and even on the particularities of future engagements. And to be sure, the holding of the inaugural defense JDCC meeting is just one of a string of developments within the bilateral relationship. Nonetheless, the aspects of collaboration that both sides work on in the coming year will be interesting to watch, up to the next iteration of the meeting which is scheduled to be held in Manila in 2020.