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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

US sends spy plane to patrol disputed sea


By Alexis Romero 
The Philippine Star 
P-8A-Poseidon-spy-planeMANILA, Philippines – The United States has deployed its newest and most advanced surveillance aircraft for patrols over the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
The P-8A Poseidon aircraft completed more than 180 flight hours from Feb. 1 to 21 from Clark Air Base, according to the US Navy’s 7th Fleet.
The US Navy said the flights sought to “strengthen maritime partnerships in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”
Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the surveillance aircraft patrolled the West Philippine Sea “to ensure freedom of navigation and security of sea lanes of sea communications.”
“It is in the interest of everyone to ensure that commerce and trade really flow in these seas and that it is not hampered,” Padilla told a press conference yesterday. “It is in the interest of everyone that we watch over this with our allies.”
He said the deployment of the surveillance aircraft did not violate Philippine sovereignty.
“It was approved under the MDB-SEB (Mutual Defense Board – Security Engagement Board) under the purview of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT),” he pointed out.
The Philippines signed the MDT with the US in 1951 “to strengthen… collective defense for the preservation of peace and security.”
The treaty serves as the basis for the two country’s successive defense deals, namely the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
Padilla clarified that the flights were not directed against China, which has been occupying and building structures in disputed areas to assert its territorial claims.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich area, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
“They (US) said they don’t take sides in the dispute in Asia and we respect the United States for that statement but just the same, it is to the interest of everyone to ensure that commerce and trade really flows in these seas and that it is not hampered,” Padilla said.
Pelicans of Patrol Squadron (VP) 45, the unit handling the P-8A Poseidon, hosted members of the Philippine Air Force and Navy in what it described as a “familiarization flight.”
The 7th Fleet said the flight provided an opportunity for the US to “increase understanding and showcase the capabilities of the Navy’s newest maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.”
“It was a remarkable opportunity to work alongside the members of the Filipino Armed Forces,” said US Navy Lt. Matthew Pool, Combat Air Crew 4 patrol plane commander.
“Sharing this aircraft’s capabilities with our allies only strengthens our bonds,” he said.
Padilla said the mission also allowed the US and Filipino troops to share information.
“There are Filipino nationals involved and whatever sharing of information we have there is also for our interest,” he said.
He said P-8A aircraft replaced the Orions on the rotations last year but the allies had made no announcement of its flights.
“We expect more surveillance planes to be deployed in the Philippines, increasing the frequency of rotation,” Padilla said.
The US Navy described the P-8A as the most advanced long-range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft in the world.
“The new P-8A is part of the Navy’s commitment to the Pacific rebalance, bringing latest technology to US 7th Fleet to ensure the US is best postured to honor its commitment to regional security and stability,” the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said.
The US says it does not take sides in disputes between China and other claimants and it calls on them to negotiate a formal maritime Code of Conduct.
The US has also called for a freeze on provocative acts in the sea but China rejects US involvement in the dispute.
China accuses the US of emboldening claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam with its military “pivot” back to Asia.
Restraint, responsibility
China is defending its activities in the South China Sea as restrained and responsible after the US intelligence chief called its expansion of outposts in the region an “aggressive” effort to assert sovereignty.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday that the country’s activities on shoals and in surrounding waters that it claims are “reasonable, legitimate and legal” and that Beijing has shown “restraint and responsibility.”
China says it has historical claims to a huge swath of the South Sea China that overlaps the claims of several neighbors including Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines, and it objects to what it considers US meddling.
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper cited China’s expansion of its outposts, including for the stationing of ships and potential airfields, at a US Senate hearing in Washington on Thursday. His comments underscored US concerns about land reclamation activities that could fuel tensions between China and its neighbors.
Clapper described China’s claim to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea as “exorbitant.”
The US says it has a national interest in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in the region. – AP

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