In a move that prompted a swift and angry response from China, the U.S. has reportedly agreed to substantially increase its military presence in the Philippines, increasing the number of troops, aircraft and ships which routinely rotate through the country.
Details surrounding the scale of the increase were not made public but Pio Lorenzo Batino, the Philippines deputy defense minister said policy consultations were also held on a framework that would allow Washington to bolster military equipment in-country as well. He warned that, "There has been no discussion yet on specifics [of in-country military equipment] … (these are) policy consultations and the specifics would be determined by the technical working groups,"
Batino went on to say they expected to sign a five-year joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise plan during their meetings recently.
The announcement came during the 3rd Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila last week. The 2nd bilateral dialogue was held in January of this year, and “Two-Plus-Two” Ministerial Consultations between their foreign and defense secretaries took place in April in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. side of the strategic dialogue was headed by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell who told reporters afterwards that the long-standing U.S.-Philippines relationship was enjoying a “renaissance” as part of the larger U.S. pivot to Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea continues to dominate relations between China and members of the Associations of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to the Spratly islands located in the far southeast of the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea and East Sea in Vietnam, which also claims the Paracel Islands off its northeast coast.
China claims sovereignty over much of the region including the resource rich islands and sea lanes of communications through which almost half the world's international trade passes.
Increased U.S. support would also serve The Philippines when struggling against natural disasters, which occur quite frequently. Typhoon Bopha was the most recent, claiming more than 900 lives as it swept across the southern Philippines last week.
Both Manila and Washington seemed to emphasis the humanitarian nature of the increased U.S. presence in the country, likely in an effort to assuage China’s inevitable concerns.
If this was the hope it was not to be realized as Beijing immediately focused on the strategic implications and the potential conflict, rather than the natural disaster relief operations. State-run media in Beijing denounced the agreement and used language that was unusually evocative, reflecting China’s growing frustration with the Philippines.
The China Daily referred to the Philippines as a troublemaker seeking a confrontation with China, and accused it of opportunism and trickery. It also described Philippines Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario’s public support of Japan building up its military forces as pathetic.