France and the Philippines have signed a defense cooperation agreement, which aims to help Manila modernize its defense forces amid tension in its relations with China. According to French embassy in Manila, the deal was signed two days after the election of new Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

The agreement will increase cooperation between the French and Philippine armed forces, “as well as the promotion of bilateral defense cooperation in relations to defense equipment, logistics and the defense industry”, a statement by the embassy said.

It provides for “high-level visits to increase cooperation, consultations on defense policy, training and exercises to boost capacity, exchanges of information and the development of naval cooperation”.

Defense Minister for the Philippines Voltaire Gazmin said that the agreement “essential” for his country’s response to its defense and security concerns in a speech at the signing on Wednesday.

The Philippines is one of several Asian nations concerned by China’s activity in the South China Sea.

Beijing’s construction of artificial islands on reefs claimed by the Philippines and other neighboring countries has also attracted criticism from the US, which has put more military resources into the region under President Barack Obama.

Manila then signed a new defense treaty with the US and appealed against the seizure to the permanent arbitration court in The Hague.

Unlike his predecessors, Duterte has said he is open for a bilateral talk with China about the issue.