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US Eastern Pivot Causes Rift: China sanctions against Philippines urged

S ource: Asian News

China should impose “sanctions” against the Philippines after the latter offered to allow more US troops on its soil, state media said on Sunday, amid growing tensions over disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In sharp contrast, China’s foreign ministry called for greater efforts toward “peace and stability” in the region.

“We hope that relevant parties will make more effort toward peace and stability in the region,” the foreign ministry said in a brief statement faxed to Agence France-Presse on Sunday.

The Philippines on Friday said it planned to hold more joint exercises and to let more US troops rotate through the country—an offer welcomed by the United States as it seeks to expand its military power in Asia.

An editorial in the Global Times, published by the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, said Beijing “must respond” to the move by using its “leverage to cut economic activities” between the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.

China also should consider “cooling down” business links with its smaller neighbour, according to the editorial published in the Chinese and English versions of the newspaper.

“It should show China’s neighbouring areas that balancing China by siding with the US is not a good choice,” it said. “Well-measured sanctions against the Philippines will make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner with the US”.

China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, have rival claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea, home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to hold vast deposits of fossil fuels.

Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines and Vietnam complained repeatedly last year of what they said were increasingly aggressive acts by China in the decades-long rift.

The alleged acts, which included a Chinese naval ship reportedly firing warning shots at Filipino fishermen, fueled fears among some nations in the region about China as its military and political strength grows.
The United States has been looking to increase its military presence across the Asia-Pacific region in a strategic shift that has angered China.

US President Barack Obama said in November last year that the United States would deploy up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia. The following month, a US admiral wrote that the United States expected to station several combat ships in Singapore.

Upgrading PH defence

In Manila, a deputy spokesperson of President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday said that his administration was determined to upgrade the country’s defence capabilities with or without the tension in the West Philippine Sea.

Abigail Valte said the Philippine government’s recent discussions with the United States over the US plan to increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific region was out of its desire to raise the level of its defence capabilities and not because of its maritime territorial dispute with China.

“With or without the dispute, we believe that and no one will contradict it, but we are really being left behind when it comes to our defence capabilities and we aim to raise that level,” Valte said in an interview over government radio dzRB.

She said upgrading the country’s defence capabilities included its ability to patrol territorial waters.

“We can see the number of boats we have in order to patrol our coastlines,” Valte said. “We really need to upgrade them.”

Mutual defence treaty

Citing the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty, the Philippines and the United States have agreed to shift into higher gear their cooperation in maritime security, defence and law enforcement, among other areas, during their second bilateral strategic dialogue on Jan. 27 in Washington.

In a joint statement released yesterday by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the two allies reaffirmed their commitment to an “invigorated and expanded alliance capable of addressing 21st century challenges”.

“We reinforced the significance of our Mutual Defence Treaty as the basis for the alliance and the treaty’s continued relevance to the peace, security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific. We committed to further enhance cooperation, including in security, defence, commerce, law enforcement, human rights, and disaster relief. We also agreed to deepen and broaden our maritime cooperation,” they said.

The DFA did not provide details about the “21st century challenges” referred to in the statement.

But like the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a DFA insider said the statement referred to a recent US Department of Defence report, titled “Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century Defence”, and to pronouncements made early this month by the White House and Pentagon.

Pentagon report

The KMP furnished the Inquirer a copy of the eight-page Pentagon report in which the agency named 10 “primary missions” of the US military.

No. 3 on the list is “Project power despite antiaccess/area denial challenges”.

“Accordingly, the US military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in antiaccess and area denial environments. This will include implementing the Joint Operational Access Concept, sustaining our undersea capabilities, developing a new stealth bomber, improving missile defences, and continuing efforts to enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of critical space-based capabilities,” the report said.

In a January 3 statement, Obama said: “As we end today’s wars, we will focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific.”

Tools of US power

“Meeting these challenges cannot be the work of our military alone, which is why we have strengthened all the tools of American power, including diplomacy and development, intelligence and homeland security…As we end today’s wars and reshape our Armed Forces, we will ensure that our military is agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies,” Obama said.

“In particular, we will continue to invest in the capabilities critical to future success, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; counterterrorism; countering weapons of mass destruction; operating in antiaccess environments; and prevailing in all domains, including cyber,” he added.

Confront aggression

On January 5, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement in which he said he was “releasing strategic guidance for the Department of Defence to articulate priorities for a 21st century defence that sustains US global leadership”.

Panetta said the “joint force will be prepared to confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world. It will have the ability to surge and regenerate forces and capabilities, ensuring that we can meet any future threats by investing in our people and a strong industrial base. It remains the world’s finest military”.

During the Jan. 27 dialogue, the Philippines and the United States also “emphasised the importance of deepening bilateral trade and investment ties to increase prosperity for the people in both countries. We reviewed our ongoing collaboration in the Partnership for Growth and the (US government-run) Millennium Challenge Corporation”.

The United States also “recognised the efforts being taken by the Philippine government in resolving human rights cases and discussed positive developments in the prosecution of abuses”.

Manila and Washington “emphasised a mutual commitment to these efforts”.

According to the allies, the dialogue “provided an opportunity to consult and exchange views on a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues, reflecting our common values and interests”.

The meeting was chaired by Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio and Defence Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, and US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and acting Defence Assistant Secretary Peter Lavoy.

The two sides also looked forward to “continuing our high-level consultations at a joint ministerial meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin this March”.

They also highlighted “upcoming opportunities for further high-level engagements,” including official visits to Manila in February by US Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro and Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis.
Port calls

In a related development, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) yesterday assailed the port calls in Manila and Cebu of two US warships, saying these were “already part of the heightened US power projection in Asia, as stated in the new US defence strategy”.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said that “even without a formal basing agreement, the US uses access agreements and training exercises so that at any time the US has forces in our country”.

“The US may not even need formal bases given the access and virtual basing opportunities they have now,” Reyes said, adding the Aquino administration’s foreign policy was “certainly no better than the Arroyo administration’s.” Reports from AFP, Jerry E. Esplanada and Christine O. Avendaño


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