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Phl eyed for advanced US air, navy weaponry
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Philippine StarPhilippine Star – 12 hours ago
The United States wants to deploy advanced air and naval equipment to the Philippines, which is seeking “substantive support” from its long-time ally amid China’s massive reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.
This was according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who cited US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s recent pronouncements. The type or kind of military equipment and materiel was not specified.
“According to the new Department of Defense secretary in the United States, Secretary Carter, they are already looking at deploying to the Philippines various advanced equipment, air force equipment, naval equipment, maritime domain equipment. These were outlined by Secretary Carter recently and we welcome this,” Del Rosario said in an interview on ANC .
Carter’s announcement came after US President Barack Obama expressed concern over China’s using its “sheer size and muscle” to push around smaller nations in the region, particularly the Philippines.
“The first time that it was announced was a few days ago... this is the first time we are hearing about it. We have not engaged in discussion so we will find out more about what these plans involve,” Del Rosario said.
He said the equipment – possibly to include a weapons system – would be manned by US personnel.
“It will require US presence. We have not talked about what extent this will happen but with those equipment you can surmise that there will be a US presence,” he added.
“We are, at this point, seeking additional support from the United States in terms of being able to take a stronger position in defending our position, which is to uphold the rule of law,” Del Rosario told journalists later yesterday.
Del Rosario is set to visit the US in two weeks to meet with members of the US Congress, with whom he is likely to discuss the developments in the West Philippine Sea, particularly China’s massive reclamation activities.
A meeting with Carter and US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to take place during Del Rosario’s visit.
He noted that the US government is looking at the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea problem in terms of three elements – China’s massive reclamation activities, construction of facilities such as airstrips and harbors, and the militarization of these facilities.
“The Philippines is saying that we should get together and study how we can uphold the rule of law together not only with the United States but with the entire international community,” he said.
Del Rosario reiterated that the reclamation projects were proof of China’s aggression in the region.
“And not only are they using it to define the nine-dash line but they feel that it will serve to undermine our case with the arbitral tribunal because what they are trying to do is they are taking features and changing the character and nature and the maritime entitlements of those features,” Del Rosario said.
“They are not allowed to do that but UNCLOS says that even if they do that, the UNCLOS will look not at what there is now but what it was before they built these features,” he said, referring to the reclaimed lands in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines protested China’s seven massive reclamation activities, saying they were a violation not only of international law but also of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
The DOC calls for self-restraint in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, including altering of features in contested waters.
“We are looking at our options now,” Del Rosario said without elaborating.
Next week, 11,500 Filipino and American soldiers are taking part in the largest-ever 10-day war games in the Philippines, called Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder), setting into motion the US rebalance to Asia policy.
China claims most of the potentially energy rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
China yesterday bristled at recent comments by President Aquino in an interview with AFP.
Aquino said China is engendering fear around the world with its posture in the South China Sea’s disputed waters, and that it’s possible conflict over territorial disputes could break out.
“The accusation is groundless,” said Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a regular briefing. “We urge the Philippines to respect China’s territorial sovereignty.”
The Philippines has called “unacceptable” China’s assurance that its massive reclamation in the West Philippine Sea was not causing environmental damage. Manila earlier said coastal communities are facing $100-million losses annually from China’s reclamation activities, citing a United Nations Environment Program study.
China is tolerating environmentally harmful fishing practices by its nationals at Bajo de Masinloc, also called Panatag Shoal or Scarborough Shoal off Zambales, according to Philippine authorities.
The Philippines has also expressed concern over China’s announcement that the reclaimed islands and reefs would provide comprehensive services to meet various fisheries and maritime demands.
The DFA said such statements by China only “serve to raise the specter of increasing militarization and threaten peace and stability in the region.”
Analyst say China’s vigorous reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea were being done in anticipation of an adverse ruling on its position by the international arbitral court based in The Hague.
In 2014, the Philippines submitted a voluminous memorial or written argument of its position on the West Philippine Sea issue to the arbitral court. The court, however, has no powers to enforce its ruling.
Meanwhile, China has reportedly turned to its citizens with businesses in Southeast Asian countries for help in providing supplies for its personnel and troops currently engaged in massive reclamation operations in the West Philippine Sea, a source in the intelligence community said.
“Facing difficulties in sustaining the presence of their personnel in the region China has turned to its citizens based in Southeast Asia to solve this problem as Hainan is very far,” the source said.
He said several fishing boats seen unloading supplies for the Chinese were found to be Chinese-owned but had come from nearby countries, particularly Malaysia.
China’s occupied area in the Spratlys is 580 miles away from its nearest territory in Hainan’s Yulin naval base, thus making it very costly to deliver food and other provisions needed by thousands of its construction personnel, sailors and marines currently staying in the disputed region.
“We even suspect that the Chinese are also getting food and drinking water, one way or the other, from enterprising Filipinos employed on these foreign-registered fishing boats as we monitored an increasing demand of this basic need to sustain human survival,” the source said.
Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. expressed doubt on the veracity of the report, saying he had not been notified of the development.
Kalayaan town is a fifth class municipality in Palawan located on Pag-Asa Island, the second biggest island in the Spratlys archipelago.
“It’s highly unlikely that these things are now happening out there,” Bito-onon said.