Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (File photo)

MANILA – The Philippines will continue to maintain its independent foreign policy to protect its sovereignty and national interest amid geopolitical issues, the country's defense chief said on Friday.

"We will continue to uphold our independent foreign policy to safeguard our sovereignty and national interest. We will maintain and enhance our existing alliance while exploring potential partnership, all for the advancement of our country and the welfare of our people," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a virtual conference organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).

Lorenzana also maintained that the long-standing geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China will continue to test the Philippines' adeptness in balancing its relationship between the two nations.

"It is necessary for us to continuously engage with China not only for existing cooperation in various areas but also for the peaceful resolution of our competing claims in the South China Sea," he added.

Lorenzana said the Philippines must remain mindful of the role of the US "as the stabilizing force in the Indo-Pacific Region and a counterbalance to China."

He also noted that maintaining a stable international rules-based order is in the best interest of all.

Lorenzana also hoped that Manila would benefit from Washington DC's "pivot to Asia strategy" under the administration of President Joe Biden.

"Thus, we welcome with great optimism the change of leadership in the US government, hoping that the strong and reliable friendship between the Philippines and the US would flourish ever further," he added.

He also expressed hope that the appointment of former Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim as an assistant secretary of the US Department of State, who has a deeper understanding of the country, will result in the exercise of prudence and restraint in dealing with other countries' domestic affairs.

"American leaders must note that the foundation of our alliance is our shared commitment to the preservation of democracy and protection of human rights and that the Philippines has never reneged from such commitment," he said.

Noting that bilateral relations is a two-way concern, Lorenzana said the Philippines must do its share in fulfilling its comment to the alliance and undertake its role in preserving this decades-old friendship.

"Our country can be a more responsible partner by exerting efforts commensurate to those of the US and its neighbors such as investing in the modernization and capability upgrade of its own Armed Forces and developing its own defense industry. By taking a relatively larger responsibility in the alliance in terms of burden-sharing, the Philippines can generate openness and confidence with the US and its neighbors," he noted. (PNA)