Friday, June 24, 2011

China Conflict - US ready to arm Philippines

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their joint press conference at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on Thursday (Friday in Manila).

Manila vows to defend sovereignty over Spratlys

UNITED States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday (Friday in Manila) said that Washington was “determined and committed” to support Manila, even if it meant providing “affordable” material and equipment that would assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to take the steps necessary to defend itself.”

MalacaƱang on Friday responded to Clinton’s remarks by saying in a statement that it welcomed “the renewed commitment of” the Philippines and the United States “to a peaceful, stable, environment in the region and to a multilateral approach to resolving issues.”

During a joint press conference with visiting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and fresh from their meeting in Washington, D.C., Clinton reaffirmed her country’s defense commitment to the Philippines, which vowed to “stand up to aggressive action” amid rising tensions between Manila and Beijing over the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“We are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines,” the US Secretary of State said.

She added that Manila and Washington were working “to determine what are the additional assets that the Philippines needs and how we can best provide those.”
Del Rosario said in turn that Manila was ready to protect its sovereignty over the Philippine-claimed part of the disputed sea.

“[Although] we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard,” he added.

The Philippines recently announced deployment to the disputed waters of its Navy flagship, the Rajah Humabon, a former US Navy frigate that served during World War II.

Manila has historically bought second-hand hardware but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino 3rd has allocated P11 billion ($252 million) to upgrade the Philippine Navy.

Shortly ahead of his talks with Clinton, del Rosario said that the Philippines was asking the United States for “an operational lease so that we can look at fairly new equipment and be able to get our hands on that quickly.”

According to the Foreign Affairs chief, Manila “has made clear its position on the issue: to maintain peace while allowing for the economic development of the area.”
“There is a need to segregate the non-disputed areas from the disputed [ones]. What is ours is ours, and what is disputed can be shared,” he said.

Clinton, meanwhile, emphasized Washington’s determination to see a peaceful resolution to the multi-nation dispute over the Spratlys and their adjacent waters through the United Nations (UN) Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) and the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct between China and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean).

The contested island group— believed to be rich in oil and mineral reserves—and its adjacent waters are being claimed in whole by China and in part by Taiwan and Asean members Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Other members of the regional bloc are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

Over the past few weeks, there had been escalating tensions in the contested waters as the Philippines, Vietnam and China traded accusations and barbs.

“We support resolving disputes through a collaborative diplomatic
presence and process without coercion,” Clinton said.

“The United States does not take sides on territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, but we oppose the use of force or the threat of force to advance the claims of any party,” she added.

Defense treaty

The US top diplomat underscored Manila and Washington’s now-60-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which calls on each country to help defend the other against external attacks.

“The United States honors our Mutual Defense Treaty and our strategic alliance with the Philippines,” Clinton said, negating the need to “discuss hypothetical events,” referring to possible armed attacks between Manila and Beijing.

She added that the United States recently transferred a US Coast Guard cutter to the Philippine Navy and helped Manila establish a radar system that would enable it to monitor its own waters closely.

According to the former US First Lady and senator, Washington has grown increasingly concerned about recent Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

“These reported incidents clearly present significant maritime security issues, including the freedom of navigation, respect for international law and the lawful, unimpeded economic development and commerce that all nations are entitled to pursue,” Clinton said.

Del Rosario, who was to meet outgoing US Defense Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials during his Washington visit, noted that since February 25 there have been nine Chinese intrusions in the West Philippine Sea “of different varieties, but clearly becoming more aggressive and frequent.”

These incidents included the reported firing and bullying of Filipino fishermen by Chinese military vessels at the Quirino Atoll and Reed Bank, as well as the building of posts at the Amy Douglas Bank.

These areas were well within the Philippine 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as provided by the UNCLOS.

Manila sent a diplomatic protest to Beijing over the reported intrusions, which China had denied and dismissed as “bad rumors.”

But del Rosario noted that Beijing’s response was “not acceptable.”

He has been continually calling on other claimant-countries, particularly China, to adhere to the provisions of the UNCLOS and the DOC, a decade-old and non-binding edict that aims to reduce tensions between claimant-countries.

Earlier, Singapore also called on claimant-countries to fully implement the DOC, which has not been concluded because China opposed the stipulation allowing Asean members to first consult among themselves before talking with Beijing.

Del Rosario said that it was important that a rules-based regime be used in dealing with the West Philippine Sea dispute so that international law would prevail.

Manila also called for a multi-stakeholder approach in resolving the issues.
China, however, maintained that it would not negotiate on a multi-lateral level and that the United States must not intervene in the “regional territorial dispute.”

At MalacaƱang, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement released also on Friday that as “the Philippines seeks to transform the West Philippine Sea from a zone of dispute to a Zone of Peace, Friendship, Freedom and Cooperation, the reiteration of our treaty partnership” — referring to the MDT —“with the United States and a way forward where all nations can cooperate to their common benefit is timely.”

He added that the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd would continue working with Washington and other partners “to accomplish enduring inclusive growth for ourselves and to be a voice of stability and responsibility in the region.” By Bernice Camille V. Bauzon, Reporter With reports from Cris G. Odronia and AFP

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