Reuters & Taipei Times & Agence France-Presse – 2015-04-26 00:36:25
US Seeks Access to Philippine Bases as Part of Asia ‘Pivot’
Reuters & Taipei Times
MANILA (April 25, 2015) — The US has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and China expands its military presence in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington’s next phase in its Asia “pivot,” deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region. The Asia “pivot” has already seen US Marines rotating through the Australian tropical city of Darwin, the country’s closest city to Asia, for training.
At least eight locations in the Philippines have been identified as possible sites where US troops, planes and ships will be rotated through a series of military training exercises, Philippine General Gregorio Catapang, military chief, told local television network ABS-CBN.
However, the Americans will have to wait until after the Philippine’s Supreme Court makes its rulings on the constitutionality of the military deal, called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed last year between Manila and Washington. It might decide later this year.
“If we formalize [now] and they start putting up structures and it’s not constitutional, they will have to destroy those structures,” Catapang said late on Friday, adding the list was finalized in October last year during a Mutual Defense Board meeting.
Four of the locations are on the main island of Luzon, where US and Filipino soldiers usually hold exercises, two on the central Cebu island, and two more on the western island of Palawan, near the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands).
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, and denies accusations its actions in its own territory are provocative.
Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested territory in the Spratly Islands, which drew concern from the US and its allies in Asia.
“Once the US rebalance to Asia policy is in full swing, the Philippines expect the Americans to seek more access to military bases on Mindanao island and civilian airstrips on Luzon,” said a senior air force official familiar with the arrangements.
Philippines Voices China Alarm
As US War Games Begin
Agence France-Presse & Taipei Times
MANILA â€“ (April 21, 2015) — The Philippines yesterday voiced concerns about Chinese “aggressiveness” in disputed regional waters as it launched giant war games with the US that were partly aimed as a warning shot to Beijing.
Philippine military chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang released what he said were satellite images of intense recent Chinese construction over seven reefs and shoals in the Spratly archipelago (Nansha Islands) in the South China Sea.
“We have compelling reasons to raise our voice to tell the whole world the adverse effects of China’s aggressiveness,” Catapang told reporters, describing the reclamation and construction activities as “massive.”
He said this was causing concern “not only because it would deter freedom of navigation, but also due to its possibility of military purposes.”
China claims sovereignty over most of the resource-rich and strategically important sea, including areas close to other Asian nations, using so-called “nine-dash” demarcation lines that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s.
The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims.
China has expanded its presence in disputed parts of the sea in recent years by embarking on giant reclamation work on reefs and islets, turning some into islands capable of hosting military aircraft landing strips.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III last week said that the world should fear China’s actions in the disputed sea, warning they could lead to military conflict.
In efforts to deter China, the militarily weak Philippines has encouraged longtime ally the US to increase its presence on Philippine soil and coastal waters through expanded and more frequent war games.
This dovetails with US plans to rebuild its military presence in the Philippines, a former colony where it had naval and air bases until the early 1990s.
The “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games are the biggest annual exercises between the allies, which signed a defense treaty in 1951 committing each to come to the others’ aid in the event of external aggression.
This year’s exercises involves about 12,000 troops, double last year’s number, and officials from both sides made references to the South China Sea in opening ceremony speeches in Manila.
“I am sure that this Balikatan exercise will . . . likewise zero in on enhancing our combined capacity to undertake humanitarian assistance and disaster response as well as in dealing with maritime security challenges,” Philippine Secretary of Defense Voltaire Gazmin said.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said: “We make no pretense that we are helping the Philippines as it builds a minimal credible defense and protects its maritime security. Let us be clear: the US is committed to its alliance and in the case of the Philippines, our oldest in the region, that commitment is, as [US] President [Barack] Obama has said, is ironclad.”
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