ASEAN Beat | Security | Southeast Asia

What Lies Ahead for Philippines-Turkey Defense Relations?

Both sides continue to highlight the promise for this aspect of bilateral ties in spite of the limitations that remain.

What Lies Ahead for Philippines-Turkey Defense Relations?

An engagement between the Philippine and Turkish foreign ministers earlier this year.

Credit: Turkish Foreign Ministry

Late last month, Turkey’s ambassador to the Philippines highlighted the prospects of the defense aspect of ties between the two countries as being an area of promise for development in public remarks. The remarks highlighted the continuing emphasis both sides have been placing on this realm as they look to strengthen their wider relationship in the coming years.

As I have observed previously in these pages, over the past few years, Turkey and the Philippines have been looking to develop their ties in the defense realm. This has occurred amid a series of broader convergent interests, with Ankara looking for newer Asian markets including Southeast Asia amid a challenging business environment in some Middle Eastern countries, and Manila searching for a wider list of partners as it develops its growing but still limited military capabilities under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Amid this, we have seen both sides focus on areas where they can translate this into reality. The emphasis has been placed not only in areas such as exchanges and visits, but also more consequential areas such as transfers of military equipment and defense industry. For instance, just in December last year, the two countries had inked a new memorandum of cooperation that covered various areas such as government-to-government acquisition and the development, co-production, and transfer of defense technology.

That has continued on into 2019 as well as the two countries commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their bilateral relationship. For example, when Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with his Philippine counterpart Teodoro Locsin Jr. as part of the round of ASEAN meetings held in Bangkok, Thailand in July, defense industry cooperation was among one of the areas that both sides discussed at the time.

Late last month, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines with remarks given by Turkey’s ambassador to the Philippines. In a speech during the Victory Day of Turkey on August 30, Turkish Ambassador to the Philippines Artemiz Sumer underlined the future promise of the Philippines-Turkey defense relationship.

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“The bilateral relations are increasing and diversifying steadily,” Sumer said in her speech which reflected on the relationship between the two countries. “In this frame, we believe we can further develop our cooperation in the field of defense.”

Sumer did not delve too deeply into the specific manifestations of the promise of Turkey-Philippine defense ties. But she did underline the prospects for it, including highlighting the strength of the Turkish Armed Forces, Turkey’s capabilities in areas such as weapons and military electronics, and the country’s defense industry which had seen a significant boost over the past few years.

To be sure, the key will be how this general strategic case can be translated into specific practical cooperation by both sides, which will require alignment on areas of focus and following through on implementation. This is an important point to keep in mind since some cooperative endeavors previously floated still have yet to be realized. Nonetheless, Sumer’s remarks were a reminder of how both countries are keen to capitalize on growing traction in their defense ties as an area of opportunity to boost their wider relationship.