Obama of­fers Asian al­lies mil­i­tary aid

Ten­sions rise over South China Sea

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA: US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama yes­ter­day of­fered the Philip­pines a war­ship as part of a $250-mil­lion aid pack­age to South­east Asian al­lies wor­ried about Chi­nese ef­forts to con­trol the South China Sea. Obama made the pledges aboard the Philip­pine Navy’s flag­ship, shortly af­ter ar­riv­ing in Manila for a sum­mit of Asia-Pa­cific lead­ers to also be at­tended by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. “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, fol­low­ing Chi­nese ar­ti­fi­cial is­land build­ing in parts of the South China 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 and Tai­wan have com­pet­ing claims to parts of the sea, which is also be­lieved to sit atop vast oil and gas re­sources.

China’s build­ing of ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands close to the Philip­pines prompted the US to de­ploy a mis­sile de­stroyer and B52 bombers to the area in re­cent weeks. 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 rows.

In Beijing just be­fore the US an­nounce­ment, Chi­nese vice for­eign min­is­ter Liu Zhen­min warned the other claimants that China could take con­trol of the is­lands they oc­cupy. “The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has the right and the abil­ity to re­cover the is­lands and reefs il­le­gally oc­cu­pied by neigh­bour­ing coun­tries,” Liu said. “But we didn’t do that, we ex­er­cised max­i­mum re­straint.”

‘Iron­clad’ Sup­port

The Philip­pines, which has one of the weak­est mil­i­taries in Asia and is the most vo­cal critic of China’s ac­tions in the sea, will re­ceive the most sup­port un­der the US pack­age. 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 lon­gen­durance pa­trols”. He said 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. “This will be a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion for our mar­itime se­cu­rity ca­pa­bil­ity,” Philip­pine de­fence depart­ment spokesman Peter Galvez told AFP. Viet­nam, a for­mer US enemy that has also spo­ken out strongly against China’s re­gional as­sertive­ness, will get $40.1 mil­lion in aid over this fi­nan­cial year and next, ac­cord­ing to a White House state­ment.

In­done­sia, which is not a claimant but has asked China to clar­ify its po­si­tion in the sea, will get nearly $20 mil­lion to help “pro­tect its mar­itime ar­eas”. Malaysia, where Obama will travel to on Fri­day for an­other re­gional po­lit­i­cal sum­mit, will re­ceive $2.5 mil­lion worth of mar­itime se­cu­rity aid. The Philip­pines and Viet­nam also signed yes­ter­day in Manila a strate­gic part­ner­ship to deepen se­cu­rity ties, ce­ment­ing an al­liance built partly on their con­cerns over China.

Sum­mit Side­tracked

Obama will to­day meet Xi at the start of the APEC sum­mit, which groups lead­ers from 21 Pa­cific rim economies that ac­count for more than half of the global econ­omy. While the two-day sum­mit is meant to fo­cus on fos­ter­ing trade unity, the an­nual event is of­ten side­tracked by other global is­sues. This year it will be held un­der the global shadow cast by last week’s ram­page in Paris claimed by the Is­lamic State group that killed at least 129 peo­ple.

Obama, Xi and a host of other lead­ers ar­rived in Manila on Tues­day from Tur­key, where they at­tended a sum­mit of the Group of 20 top economies that also fo­cused heav­ily on IS and how to de­stroy the ji­hadist net­work. Philip­pine au­thor­i­ties, which had al­ready de­ployed more than 20,000 po­lice and sol­diers for the sum­mit, said se­cu­rity had been ratch­eted up even higher be­cause of the Paris at­tacks. —AFP

MANILA: Pro­test­ers burn a US flag dur­ing a demonstration yes­ter­day against the on­go­ing Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) Sum­mit yes­ter­day. —AFP

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