Mak­ing waves

Move could chal­lenge fa­vor­able at­mos­phere for peace in Asia-pa­cific

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHOU WA zhouwa@chi­

Manila’s de­ci­sion to al­low a larger US mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Philip­pines will make the South China Sea sit­u­a­tion more com­pli­cated.

Manila’s pro­posal to al­low a greater US mil­i­tary pres­ence in the South­east Asian coun­try will chal­lenge the fa­vor­able at­mos­phere for re­gional peace and harm Wash­ing­ton’s in­ter­ests, an­a­lysts said on Fri­day.

The Philip­pines should give up its vain hope that the United States will al­low what­ever it wants to safe­guard its claims in the South China Sea, al­though Wash­ing­ton al­ways tries to keep ten­sion in the re­gion to a cer­tain de­gree, they added.

The com­ments fol­lowed an As­so­ci­ated Press re­port on Thurs­day cit­ing state­ments by Philip­pine De­fense Sec­re­tary Voltaire Gazmin and For­eign Sec­re­tary Al­bert Rosario say­ing that Manila will soon start talks with Wash­ing­ton on an “in­creased ro­ta­tional pres­ence” — a plan first an­nounced by the Philip­pine de­fense depart­ment in June.

The in­creased mil­i­tary pres­ence will help Manila at­tain a “min­i­mum cred­i­ble de­fense” to guard its ter­ri­tory and mod­ern­ize its mil­i­tary, the two min­is­ters said in a let­ter to their coun­try’s con­gres­sional lead­ers.

More mil­i­tary pres­ence from the US, an out­side power, will bring more un­cer­tain­ties in the South China Sea and harm Wash­ing­ton’s own eco­nomic in­ter­ests in the re­gion, said Wang Fan, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity.

“The US will not al­low the Philip­pines to do what­ever it wants to do with its ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China at the cost of gen­eral sta­bil­ity in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion,” said Wang.

“Wash­ing­ton needs a rel­a­tively sta­ble South­east Asia to im­ple­ment its strat­egy of Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and gain eco­nomic in­ter­ests”.

But it seems the US is will­ing to keep the ten­sion in the South China Sea at a cer­tain de­gree, said Li Guo­qiang, deputy di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Chi­nese Bor­der­land His­tory and Ge­og­ra­phy at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences.

“The ten­sion of­fers a good ex­cuse for Wash­ing­ton to de­ploy more mil­i­tary forces to the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion un­der its Asia re­bal­anc­ing strat­egy, given that some re­gional coun­tries may ask the US for help to cope with ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes”, he said.

Manila has long been seek­ing to up­grade its mil­i­tary and draw mil­i­tary pow­ers out­side the re­gion to get in­volved in the South China Sea is­sue, in a bid to strengthen its hand to bar­gain with China on the dis­pute in the fu­ture, said Li.

Al­though the US has not con­firmed Manila’s state­ments, it has re­peat­edly in­sisted that it would not take sides in the dis­putes in the South China Sea, but it has con­tin­u­ally of­fered sup­port to the Philip­pines by help­ing the coun­try up­grade its mil­i­tary ca­pac­ity.

“The rea­son is Wash­ing­ton hopes to make use of the South China Sea is­sue to sus­tain its dom­i­nance in Asia Pa­cific”, said Wang.

Mean­while, the Philip­pine’s at­tempt to im­prove its mil­i­tary of­fers a good op­por­tu­nity for the US to sell its ad­vanced arms to the coun­try, he said.

Ear­lier this week, the Philip­pines took for­mal pos­ses­sion of a ren­o­vated for­mer US Coast Guard cut­ter, and it al­ready re­ceived an­other for­mer US cut­ter in 2011.

The pres­ence of for­eign troops is also a sen­si­tive is­sue in the Philip­pines, ex­perts said.

The Philip­pine Se­nate voted in 1991 to close down ma­jor US bases at Su­bic Bay and Clark, near Manila.

The Philip­pine Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids for­eign troops from be­ing per­ma­nently sta­tioned in the coun­try, but the US ne­go­ti­ated with the Philip­pines and its Se­nate fi­nally rat­i­fied a pact with Wash­ing­ton in 1999 that al­lows tem­po­rary vis­its by US forces.

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