Obama Philippines Visit to Focus on Maritime Security

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Obama Philippines Visit to Focus on Maritime Security

While Obama will be in Manila to attend APEC, what’s happening on the sidelines may steal the show.

Obama Philippines Visit to Focus on Maritime Security

Philippine and US ships during an annual bilateral naval exercise in 2014.

Credit: Flickr/US Navy Photo

U.S. president Barack Obama’s visit to the Philippines this week for a regional economic summit will also include a strong focus on maritime security amid South China Sea tensions, a senior U.S. official told reporters Friday.

Obama is set to arrive in the Philippines on November 17 from G-20 meetings in Turkey, where he will participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Manila. This is part of a broader regional trip – Obama’s ninth – for a round of Asian summitry that will also see him visit Malaysia for ASEAN-related meetings including the East Asia Summit (EAS).

But while in the Philippines, he will also have a range of bilateral interactions with one of Washington’s five treaty allies in the Asia-Pacific which is a claimant to the South China Sea disputes, Daniel Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, told reporters at a press briefing Friday.

Shortly after Obama’s arrival in the Philippines, Kritenbrink said, he will participate in an event that will highlight the U.S.-Philippine alliance and U.S. maritime security assistance to the region. Obama will visit a Philippine naval ship and meet with U.S. and Philippine sailors as well as senior defense officials.

“The event will showcase U.S. maritime security assistance to the region,” Kritenbrink said. “And I think you’ll see through the President’s events on the ground and some of the announcements he’ll make, you’ll see proof of our commitment to assisting our Filipino allies in that regard,” he added.

On the morning of November 18, Obama will also hold a bilateral meeting with his Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino III, where they will address a range of issues within the U.S.-Philippine alliance.

Obama’s visit comes amid continued domestic debate in Manila over the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a U.S.-Philippine pact inked back in 2014 that would give U.S. troops and equipment wide access to Philippine military bases on a rotational basis. As I reported last week, there had been reports suggesting that the Philippines would approve EDCA before Obama touched down in Manila in a boost for the bilateral relationship (See: “Will the Philippines Approve a New US Defense Pact Ahead of Obama Visit?”).

Asked by The Diplomat about the interactions Obama would have amid lingering questions over EDCA, Kritenbrink only said the United States looked forward to the ruling and to being able to implement the agreement.

“I know that currently, EDCA is being reviewed by the Philippines Supreme Court, and we look forward to the court’s ruling on the issue. But it’s very clear to us what the benefits of EDCA will be, both for the people of the Philippines and the people of the United States, and we look forward to being able to implement it in the near future,” he said.