The US will assist the Philippines in improving its defense capabilities as the island-nation faces frequent disputes with China over fishing and mineral rights in the South China Sea, two US officials said.
The US is helping the Philippines draft a long-term military modernization plan that calls for the Pentagon to supply coastal patrol vessels and maritime radar as well as assist the country obtain equipment from US allies in the region, according to the US officials, who spoke with reporters -yesterday on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic matters.
The focus of Philippine cooperation with the US is “to build a minimum credible defense posture,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario said in a speech on Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, after meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
In addition to providing excess defense equipment to the Philippines, the US is assisting in discussions with South Korea, Japan and Australia about obtaining defense -equipment from them, the officials said.
The US provided the Philippines with a used coast guard cutter last year and plans to transfer another one later this year, one of the officials said.
The US offered US$142.4 million to the Philippines in the current fiscal year, including military and economic assistance, according to data compiled by the US Congressional Research Service. The US Department of State, which provides such funding, is seeking US$144.4 million for the next fiscal year, according to congressional data.
Meanwhile, the US will this year double military aid to the Philippines, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said on Friday.
The ramping-up of Washington’s defense assistance will see military aid this year jump to US$30 million as well as “real-time information sharing” on the Philippines’ maritime territory, department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
“We have been making representations for this since last year,” he said, stressing that was before the outbreak last month of tensions with China.
The increased aid was confirmed during the recent US visit of del Rosario and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin for talks with their US counterparts, where they discussed the almost month-long face-off with China over a shoal in the South China Sea that is claimed by both countries.
The Philippines also asked the US for ships, planes and radars to help modernize its poorly equipped military.
The US Department of State also said “it would explore additional creative funding streams for the Philippines,” he said.
“The Philippines and the US would also intensify cooperation in real-time information sharing to enable the Philippines to know what is happening in its maritime territory and enforce its laws,” Hernandez added.
He did not specify how this would work in practice.
Vessels from the Philippines and China were involved in at least six disputes last year over which nation had access to reefs and islands in the South China Sea, according to a report by the International Crisis Group titled, Stirring up the South China Sea. The Brussels-based group says it works to prevent conflict worldwide.
The latest incident occurred on April 10, when two Chinese ships stopped the Philippine Navy from inspecting Chinese fishing boats near the Scarborough Shoal, which is also claimed by Taiwan where it is known as Huang Yen Island (黃岩島)