The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in Asia and is the most vocal critic of China’s actions in the sea, would get two warships on top of a record $79 million in assistance to bolster its maritime security capabilities.
No less than US President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged his nation’s “ironclad” commitment to defend its long-time Asian ally, which is locked in a bitter territorial row with China.
“The United States has been committed to the security of this region for more than 70 years, we have a treaty obligation, an ironclad commitment, to the defense of our ally the Philippines, who can count on the United States,” Obama said as he toured the Philippine Navy’s flagship vessel, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, at the Naval Station Jose Andrada in Manila.
The US President’s statement was a reiteration of his pronouncement during his state visit to Manila in April 2014.
Obama said the Philippines would get a decommissioned US Coast Guard cutter to be turned into a new warship that will “bolster the navy’s ability to conduct long-endurance patrols.”
He added that the Philippines would also get a research vessel to help map its territorial waters, while vowing US commitment to defend its longtime ally was “ironclad.”
The Philippines will receive a record $79 million in assistance to bolster maritime security this financial year, the biggest recipient in Southeast Asia, the White House said.
“My visit here underscores our shared commitment to the security of the waters of this region and to the freedom of navigation,” Obama said as he announced the assistance.
The offers were aimed at reassuring allies that the United States was committed to maintaining security in the region’s waters, in light of Chinese artificial island-building in parts of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
China claims nearly all of the sea, a strategically vital waterway home to some of the world’s most important shipping routes.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Taiwan have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is also believed to sit atop vast oil and gas resources.
China was almost certain to react angrily to Obama’s announcement, as it insists the United States has no right to involve itself in disputes over waters that are far away from US coasts.
China had also repeatedly called for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which starts on Wednesday, to focus exclusively on trade and not be distracted by the row.
Japan also on Tuesday confirmed that Manila and Tokyo are completing a deal allowing the transfer of military equipment to the Philippines.
Speaking to journalists in Manila, Japan’s Deputy Press Secretary Koichi Mizushima, however, did not say if it will be signed during the bilateral meeting of President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the sidelines of the APEC Leaders’ Meeting on Wednesday.