MANILA — Amid China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario has called on the United States to urgently give more focus to recent developments in the South China Sea and provide substance to its Asia rebalance policy.
“The South China Sea dispute is the most important issue today,” Del Rosario said in his remarks at the launch of the the US-Philippines Strategic Initiative (USPSI) on May 12 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
While Manila remains supportive of Washington’s rebalance towards Asia, Del Rosario said the US “must remain an active player in strengthening the regional architecture for stability, security and development.”
The Philippines is the oldest treaty ally of the US in Asia.
In recent years, the two countries have been closely working together to reinvigorate their bilateral relations within the context of the US rebalance policy in view of several issues, which Manila said “have far-reaching implications for the region’s security and progress,” specifically the maritime row in the turbulent waters being claimed by China nearly in its entirety.
Last year, Manila and Washington signed an agreement, called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, to allow greater US presence in the country. The signing came on the heels of America’s “Asian pivot” after years of heavy military engagement in the Middle East. The accord is pending before the Supreme Court, which is determining its constitutionality.
As China boldly asserts claim over the resource-rich waters, Philippine government officials said an expanded US military presence in the country can help its cash-strapped military defend the Philippines’ territory as it builds up its defense capability.
The Philippines also found alarming China’s massive and rapid building spree in seven disputed reefs in the waters, which also drew concerns from nations like the US, Japan and Australia.
With China’s massive claims, Manila in 2013 filed a case against China before an arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where a decision is expected by early 2016.
As part of his two-day visit to Washington, Del Rosario also separately met with US Senators John McCain and Bob Corker and thanked them for their leadership “in pursuing continued dynamic engagement with Asia and reiterated the Philippines’ support for the US rebalance policy.
In that meeting, Del Rosario encouraged the forging of bipartisan cooperation in the US legislature with regard to the urgent need to address the worsening situation in the South China Sea.