THE Philippines and the United States had started joint patrols at the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) amid China’s increasing reclamation and militarization activities in disputed waters.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday said the first joint patrol was carried out in March and the second was held in early April.
“Last month, we commenced joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea. These patrols will continue to help build our inter-operability and improve the Philippine Navy even as these patrols contribute to the safety and security of the region’s waters,” Carter told reporters after meeting with President Benigno Aquino 3rd in Malacañang.
He pointed out that China’s actions “are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions.”
The US, he noted, is standing by its allies and new partners, “affirming our commitment to their and the region’s security with increased posture.”
“We’re standing up for those rules and principles. We’re making important new defense in US defense technology. And we are continuing to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. And we always will,” Carter said.
“Nothing will deter us from defending our core interest in freedom of navigation and overflight,” he added.
Carter said hundreds of US troops and several ground attack aircraft brought in for the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises will remain in the Philippines temporarily.
Also, about 200 US airmen from Pacific Air Forces units will stay until the end of the month, along with three HH-60G Pave Hawks, five A-10C Thunderbolt IIs and an MC-130H Combat Talon II.
In addition, up to 75 US military personnel will stay at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military’s general headquarters located in Quezon City, to work on inter-operability between the two militaries and enhance joint command and control capabilities.
Carter, however, said the US military presence does not aim to provoke China but as a way of “tamping down tensions.”
The US, he added, is “on the side of peaceful resolution and lawful disposition” of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“The American position is very clear, it’s been consistent for a long time, which is, these things should be settled peacefully and lawfully. We recognize there are these disputes that they go back in time, we don’t take sides in them per se. We are on the side of peaceful resolution, we are on the side of lawful disposition,” Carter said in a joint news briefing with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
“We are strengthening our military role in the region, both unilaterally and through this wide range of partnerships and alliances we have. But that is not in order to provoke anything, it’s to continue to stand with the system of principles and peace and security that has kept, that has allowed this region to prosper for many decades,” he added.
The Pentagon chief pointed out that the cause of concern in the disputed sea is China’s “self-isolating behavior,” not the US.
“I just want to make it clear that’s a real phenomenon but the cause of that is Chinese behavior, not America. America’s policy continues to be one that’s valued on the principles of peaceful resolution of disputes, lawful settlement of things like territorial disputes in the South China Sea or anywhere else, freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce, these are all the things that the United States stands for,” he said.
“Now, countries that don’t stand for those things or don’t stand with those things are gonna end up isolating themselves. But that would be self-isolation not isolation by us,” Carter added.
Gazmin said he expects the US military presence “will deter uncalled for actions by the Chinese.”
“We expect the US forces to help us in our maritime domain awareness through exchange of information,” he added.
The Philippines has been a strategic partner of the US.
For decades, it hosted major American military bases at Subic Bay in Zambales province and Clark Air Base in Pampanga province.
Carter said US-Philippines military activities are planned for a broad range of contingencies.
“Maritime activities, natural disasters, accidents, incidents, provocations in, and from the American point of view, our alliance covers all of Philippine territory. Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Agreement makes that quite clear and so our military, the military activities cover a wide range of contingencies,” he added.
“Our efforts to do more together demonstrate America’s unbreakable commitment to the defense of this nation, the stability and security of the Asia-Pacific, and the principles that have helped so many in the region rise and prosper,” the Pentagon chief said.