With the heightened importance of maritime issues in the region coupled with strategic competition between the powers of the Indo-Pacific, the maritime domain has turned into a platform for increased inter-state dynamics. It is in this domain of great uncertainty that maritime services operate, cooperate, and compete.

Despite the extensive counter-terrorism efforts invested by states in the region, terrorism continues to be a key national security threat among states in the Indo-Pacific region. During the earlier part of the century, terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah were able to develop complex networks and systematically execute attacks across multiple states across the Indo-Pacific. While the operational capabilities of these organizations are now degraded, a resurgence of violent extremism in the region inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) calls for a re-evaluated strategy that recognizes the distinctive nature and tactics of ISIL. Cooperation between states is therefore central to understanding the threat and developing a strategy to mitigate militant extremism in the region.

The theme of this conference, Connecting the Spokes, implies a hub. In general terms, both the Philippines and Australia tend to view the US, perhaps also China, as hubs around whose interests and values we in this region revolve – or in multilateral terms, of course ASEAN, although that leaves us in Australia at one step removed. But if we’re talking bilaterally, the hub around which our relationship’s spokes revolve comprises trade, investment and economic relations.

In Australian dollar terms, merchandise trade between the countries fell 15% to $2.7 billion in 2018. That makes the Philippines merely Australia’s 28th largest merchandise trading partner. Trade in services – chiefly tourism and students – has the Philippines in 21st place. Australia, meanwhile, is the Philippines’ 22nd target for exports and the 13th source of imports. Mutual investment is also thin. Australia has invested about $9.6 billion in the Philippines, but only about a tenth of that are directly in operations and assets, while the rest are in shares.


In 2017, US President Donald Trump announced a new Indo-Pacific security strategy of fortifying partnerships in the region. The strategy advocates a Free and Open Indo- Pacific (FOIP), the crux of which is the active participation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad, which includes the US alongside Japan, Australia, and India). As such, the strategy presupposes strategic convergence amongst the members of the Quad in terms of what “free and open” and “Indo-Pacific” mean. However, while the Quad values a rules-based international order, each member has in place different sets of mechanisms towards achieving that end. This is indicative of the members’ preference to be independent of a US-led umbrella. It is precisely the ambiguities surrounding the FOIP that pose two problems for Southeast Asia. First, the ambiguities surrounding the strategy engender an uneven reception by Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Second, a free and open Indo-Pacific likewise poses a problem for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The paper concludes by identifying strategies to strengthen the conceptualization of the FOIP and thereby make it resonate more with Southeast Asia. These include broadening the scope of the strategy and improving the US’ bilateral relations. In addition, the set of recommendations confronts the waning role of ASEAN and the need for new types of arrangements, not least of which are minilaterals, to address shifting regional realities.