Sunday, April 19, 2015

DFA: US eyes sending air, naval support to PH amid China dispute

By Dharel Placido 
Ashton Carter
Ashton Carter
MANILA (1st UPDATE) – Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday revealed that the United States is looking at sending advanced air and naval support to the Philippines amid the country’s simmering dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.
Speaking to ANC, del Rosario quoted US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter as saying the US is looking at deploying to the Philippines various advanced air force, naval, and maritime domain equipment.
”These were outlined by Secretary Carter recently and we welcome this,” del Rosario said.
Del Rosario said the plan was revealed a few days ago and the Philippine government has yet to discuss the matter with the US government.
“We have not talked about to what extent this will happen. With that equipment, you can surmise there will be US presence,” he said.
”It’s the first time it was announced a few days ago. It’s the first time we’re hearing about it. We have not engaged in any discussion. We will find out more about what these plans involved.”
Del Rosario said he is set to fly to the US in two weeks to meet with members of the US Congress and possibly, Carter and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Del Rosario made this revelation after US president Barack Obama criticized China for using its ”sheer size and muscle” in staking its claim to the disputed waters.
The US has said that it will not take sides in the dispute, but it has expressed concern over the extent of reclamation works of China in some features of the sea.
The latest declaration also seem to underscore efforts of the US to shift its focus to Asia to counter the rise of China. While Asia’s largest economy has seen its military spending increasing sharply in recent years, its military power remains inferior to that of the US.
Meanwhile, China, in response to Obama’s remarks for the first time gave more details about the purpose of the Chinese reclamation works.
According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, the man-made islands would be for improving the working conditions of personnel stationed there, safeguarding territorial sovereignty, performing obligation in maritime search and rescue, meteorological observation, environmental protection, navigation safety and fishery production service.
Del Rosario said the Philippines is also looking at other options in dealing with the Chinese reclamation works. However, he said he cannot yet reveal what are these.
Del Rosario said the Philippines has been protesting seven China’s reclamation activities in several features in the West Philippine Sea.
Latest satellite images show that China has made some progress with its reclamation work in Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef), which is located off Palawan and is considered by the Philippines to be within its exclusive economic zone.
Del Rosario said the Chinese reclamation activities must stop as these threaten the Philippine sovereignty.
”They are out to control the South China Sea and that’s obvious for various reasons: they need to feed their people from the resources, there are hydrocarbon resources there, they need to fuel their economy and also it is strategic militarily to able to control the South China Sea,” he said.
The DFA earlier said China’s reclamation works, contrary to the Asian giant’s claim, are not good for the environment. It said some 300 acres of coral reef systems have been destroyed by the Chinese activities. It added these ”unilateral” works are causing coastal states to lose $100 million yearly.
Del Rosario added he believes the Chinese reclamations are meant to physically establish China’s ”nine-dash line” claim in the West Philippine Sea.
He said with 40 percent of the world trade passing through the West Philippine Sea, the Chinese works do not only threaten the Philippines but also the rest of the international community.
The Philippines has filed a case against China before a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal and it expects a ruling early next year.
China has refused to participate in the proceedings, a move experts say Beijing has adopted in order to avoid legitimizing the proceedings.
Del Rosario said last March 16, the Philippines responded to questions by the members of the arbitral tribunal hearing the case.
He believes that the Philippines will manage to prove that it is within the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the case.
He added that the Chinese reclamation will not affect the Philippine case, as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) ”will look at not what’s there now, but what it was before they built these features.”

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