The US says it will help build the Philippines’ sea patrol capability, but will not take sides in Manila’s standoff with Beijing at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
The top diplomats and defense officials of the treaty allies held their first joint meeting on Monday in Washington and discussed the three-week standoff at the Scarborough Shoal (黃岩島).
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reaffirmed US commitment to its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, and to freedom of navigation and regional security. She reiterated support for a diplomatic resolution to territorial disputes.
A joint statement said they would cooperate on building the Philippines’ maritime security capabilities. The US will transfer a second ship to the poorly equipped Philippine navy this year.
The Philippines, lamenting the poor state of its armed forces, appealed for US and international help in building a “minimum credible defense” amid the escalating territorial dispute with China.
Six countries, including Taiwan, are engaged in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Del Rosario lamented how the international news media have accurately described the poor state of the Philippine armed forces.
“It sounds terribly painful for the Philippines, but more painful is the fact that this is true, and we only have ourselves to blame for it,” del Rosario said candidly as Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta listened across a table.
“For the Philippines to be minimally relied upon as a US regional partner ... it therefore behooves us to resort to all possible means to build at the very least a most minimal credible defense posture,” del Rosario said.
“On our own, we will do the best we can,” he said.
“Developing a minimum credible defense posture may however be hastened mainly through an enhancement of the activities we do together with our singular treaty and through a positive consideration of increased assistance that we seek at this time as well,” he said.
The two countries, which completed extensive war games last month, are bound by a mutual defense pact in which the US has pledged to come to the aid of its ally if it faces military aggression.
“We are concurrently seeking a higher level of assistance from other international partners,” del Rosario added.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin alluded to tension with China over islands in the South China Sea, as he called for the need to “intensify our mutual trust to uphold maritime security and the freedom of navigation.”
“We should be able to work together to build the Philippines’ minimum credible defense posture, especially in upholding maritime security,” Gazmin said.
The Philippines says Scarborough Shoal is its territory because it falls well within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, as recognized by international law.
The Philippines has called for arbitration through the UN to end the dispute, but China has refused.
In a press conference after the talks, the Philippine officials stressed diplomacy when asked what aid they had sought from Washington to bolster Manila’s ability to patrol its waters and deter what they call intrusions.
“The assistance we have sought is to help us bring the case to international legal bodies so that the approach is the legal rules-based approach in resolving the issue in the South China Sea,” Gazmin said.