MANILA—Amid China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, the United States has vowed to strengthen the defense capability of the Philippines as it renewed its “ironclad” commitment to defend its long-time treaty ally against aggression.
At the close of their second high-level talks in Washington on Jan. 12, the foreign and defense chiefs of the Philippines and US issued a joint statement declaring the need for stronger military cooperation as China keeps expanding its presence in the waters also contested by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
To enhance security and defense cooperation, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and US Secretary of State John Kerry, together with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, have committed to enhance the Philippines’ maritime security presence and maritime domain awareness.
To demonstrate such commitment, Washington is transferring a third high-endurance cutter and a research vessel to the Philippines this year.
Both sides also agreed to coordinate closely on the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a mutually beneficial agreement that will enhance the United States’ ability to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and help build capacity for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
They have also declared to boost military-to-military cooperation and inter-operability through joint exercises, capacity-building, and intelligence sharing.
The meeting, called Two-Plus-Two Ministerial Dialogue, is the highest level policy consultative mechanism between the Philippine and US governments. This was their first meeting since 2012.
The ministers also discussed regional and global challenges that threaten peace and stability and the rule of law as Del Rosario and Gazmin welcomed the reaffirmation of the ironclad US commitment to the defense the Philippines.
Recently, China conducted two test landings at the Fiery Cross Reef—one of the seven features in the South China Sea that was transformed into artificial islands by Beijing, triggering concerns from the Philippines, Vietnam and US.
In their statement, the ministers underscored the need “for all parties to refrain from provocative, unilateral actions that aim to change the status quo in the South China Sea.”
They also noted that the ruling of the UN Law of the Sea Convention arbitral tribunal on Manila’s case that seeks to invalidate China’s massive sea claim would be legally binding on both China and the Philippines.
The ministers also highlighted the importance of parties taking active steps to reduce tensions, including halting the reclamation, construction on, and militarization of outposts in the South China Sea and to refrain from any actions that harass, coerce, or intimidate other parties in the South China Sea.
“In particular, the Ministers shared concern over recent test flights at Fiery Cross Reef, which exacerbate tensions and are inconsistent with the region’s commitments to exercise restraint from actions that could complicate or escalate disputes,” they said.
The ministers also expressed concern regarding large-scale land reclamation of occupied features, as well as the construction of new facilities and airstrips on them, and their impact on the marine environment, recognizing the importance of the South China Sea to the welfare and livelihoods of the many people who have for generations depended on the living resources of the South China Sea.
In a separate meeting, the Philippines has welcomed the US senate’s support for President Barack Obama’s maritime security assistance to Asia amid China’s rapidly increasing presence over the waters.
Demonstrating its keen interest in the latest developments in the region, the Senate Armed Services Committee introduced the Maritime Security Initiative in its FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allots USD 50 million to help enhance the maritime security capacities of countries in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.
President Obama first unveiled this maritime assistance plan when he was in Manila for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last November 17.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Secretary of Defense Voltaire Gazmin met with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Chairman and ranking member of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively, on Jan. 12.
“We wish to thank the Senate Armed Services Committee for the priority it has accorded to US engagement with Asia-Pacific and for the Committee’s statements calling for stronger US presence in the region,” Del Rosario said on behalf of the Philippine delegation. (PNA)