China issues guarded statement on PH-US talks on increased troop presence

BEIING (MindaNews/31 January) – China’s foreign ministry doused cold water on the heated opinions over reports Manila was open to the possibility of increased American military presence in the Philippines, a move seen to be a countermeasure to China’s assertion of its claim over the disputed Spratly Islands.

In a short statement issued late on Sunday, the ministry said that they have “taken note of the report and urges relevant parties to do more to help maintain regional peace and stability.”

The same statement was published as news items in several state-run newspapers on Monday.

The reports added that by increasing military drills between Philippine and US troops near the contentious West Philippine Sea, Manila is sending a wrong signal in relation to the overlapping claims.

“The move sends a very dangerous signal that could cause China to misjudge the US’ intentions, and raise suspicions between the two countries,” Wang Junsheng of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was quoted in a news report here.

State-owned China Daily on Sunday published an editorial piece calling on the Chinese government to sanction the Philippines by cooling down economic ties between the two countries.

Tension rose again after Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario confirmed a news report that the Philippines is seeking greater military ties with the US, particularly the presence of more American troops.

“Yes, it is to our definite advantage to be exploring how to maximize our treaty alliance with the United States in ways that would be mutually acceptable and beneficial. If there could be the possibility of threats to our national interest in terms of, say, territorial disputes, we should be prepared to deal with these issues diplomatically. To complement the diplomatic approach we must at the very least also endeavor to achieve a minimum credible defense posture,” Del Rosario said in a statement posted in the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

The US currently has 500-600 troops in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao. Philippine defense and military officials maintained they are here for non-combat purposes such as joint military exercises and training.

On Sunday, the Philippines and US, which held a two-day Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Washington, D.C., agreed on various points to enhance the military ties, which include deepening and broadening maritime security cooperation.

“The United States and the Philippines reaffirmed our commitment to fulfill the vision of the Manila Declaration through an invigorated and expanded alliance capable of addressing 21st century challenges. We reinforced the significance of our Mutual Defense 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, defense, commerce, law enforcement, human rights, and disaster relief,” the joint statement said.

But a leftist group in Manila sees the Aquino administration’s strategy as a weak anecdote in finding solutions to the dispute over the Spratlys.

“While we condemn China’s intrusions in our territory, we are equally apprehensive of American expansionism in the region. These two superpowers are both friends and enemies, depending on our national interest. What is important is that we are neither pushovers of China nor pawns of the US,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said in a statement.

Casiño decried the “mendicant foreign policy of the Aquino administration and insisted that the Philippines should maintain a foreign policy independent of American or Chinese interests.”

“In our desperation to check Chinese bullying, we are now bringing into the region the bigger bully. This is dangerous as it is most likely that the two bullies will eventually come to a mutually beneficial agreement with us left out. This is what happened between the US and Spain before,” he said.

Malacanang has earlier said the offer allowing greater US military presence in the Philippines is not directly meant against China, but rather to upgrade the Philippines’ defense capabilities.

“We don’t question the need for upgrading our naval forces and capability to defend ourselves from Chinese intrusions. What we question is the solution being taken by the Aquino government – converting the Philippines into an American outpost in order to scare the Chinese away from the Spratlys. Such an approach is short sighted, ineffective and dangerous,” Casiño retorted. (Darwin Wally T. Wee/MindaNews)