The United States reassured the Philippines it supported its former colony’s bid to draw up strong international rules to peacefully address maritime disputes in Southeast Asia.
US President Barack Obama discussed “strong international rules” with President Benigno Aquino III, while State Secretary Hillary Clinton encouraged continued diplomatic dialogue to ease the tension.
“(W)e discussed not only military and economic issues, but also regional issues – for example, trying to make sure that we have a strong set of international norms and rules governing maritime disputes in the region – that I’m very confident that we’re going to see continued friendship and strong cooperation between our two countries,” Obama said after meeting with Aquino at the White House’s Oval Office.
Dotted red line shows vast area claimed by China. The PHL, which is claiming some islands, has begun calling the region the West Philippine Sea. GMA News Online
For her part, State Secretary Hillary Clinton said the US welcomes the Philippines’ initial steps to defuse tensions surrounding the Scarborough (Panatag) Reef.
She said the US also calls on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to conclude their efforts to reach consensus on a code of conduct for the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
“And we encourage continued diplomatic dialogue and further efforts to lessen tension, to disengage, and to resolve the situation peacefully. The United States has been consistent in that we oppose the use of force or coercion by any claimant to advance its claims, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” she said.
Aquino and Obama’s meeting took place amid a two-month-old standoff between the Philippines and China over Panatag Shoal, which China refers to as Huangyan Island.
The standoff started April 10 when Philippine forces spotted Chinese fishermen taking marine species from the area, but were blocked by Chinese vessels when they tried to make arrests.
Obama said he discussed security and military issues with Aquino, on how the Philippines and US can continue to consult closely together, to engage in training together, and work on a range of regional issues together.
He added these will be consistent with the announced pivot by the United States back to Asia, “and reminding everybody that, in fact, the United States considers itself, and is, a Pacific power.”
For his part, Aquino thanked Obama for all the support that the US has given the Philippines “in our quest to really transform our society.”
“Ours is a shared history, shared values, and that’s why America is just one of two that we have strategic partnerships with,” Aquino said after the meeting.
Aquino also thanked the US for the expressions of support that he said “has led to the resolution of situations within our territory.”
“Today’s meeting has really even deepened and strengthened a very long relationship we have, especially as we face the challenges that are before both our countries in the current situation,” he added.
A separate White House statement said Obama reaffirmed the US government’s support for Philippine efforts to build a minimum credible defense posture.
It cited the transfer of a second US Coast Guard Cutter to the Philippine Navy, support for the Philippine National Coast Watch System, and the growing number of bilateral exercises and training programs.
Earlier, Clinton announced the United States will support the construction, outfitting, and training of a new National Coast Watch Center in the Philippines.
During the meeting, Aquino briefed Obama on regional developments, including the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
“They underscored the importance of the principles of ensuring freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce. They expressed firm support for a collaborative diplomatic process among claimants to resolve territorial disputes in a manner consistent with international law and without coercion or the use of force,” the White House statement said.
Obama also conveyed his support for the ongoing efforts within the ASEAN to reach an agreement with China on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.
Such a code would create a rules-based framework for managing and regulating the conduct of parties, including preventing and managing disputes.
Enhancing joint military capabilities
Both leaders also agreed to build on their successful security cooperation on counterterrorism by expanding efforts to enhance joint military capabilities and interoperability in humanitarian assistance.
They also sought to work to enhance cooperation in the areas of disaster relief, maritime security, and maritime domain awareness.
Obama recognized Aquino’s commitment to peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and to ensuring a peaceful and prosperous future for Mindanao.
Both leaders also acknowledged the importance of a strong economic relationship to both sides, and committed to redouble efforts to bolster and deepen efforts to expand bilateral trade and promote greater trade and economic integration in the Asia Pacific.
Obama noted the positive trade dialogue taking place under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and the importance of expanding bilateral trade in key agricultural products of interest to both countries.
He welcomed Aquino’s commitment to the Partnership for Growth as a catalyzing joint effort to promote anti-corruption and rule of law, improved fiscal performance and regulatory quality, and inclusive economic growth.
“They agreed to continue to push for progress on good governance and transparency in the Open Government Partnership and through implementation of the Philippines Millennium Challenge Corporation compact grant,” the White House said.
Also, they welcomed the signing of a Science and Technology agreement that will help boost innovation by facilitating collaborative scientific activities and promoting the exchange of ideas, information, skills and technology.
Obama underscored the importance of the long and close ties between the people of the United States and the Philippines, as well as the significant contributions our people have made to each other’s security, prosperity and culture.
He and Aquino pledged to continue to deepen those ties through continued educational and cultural exchanges, and welcomed the founding of the US-Philippines Society to further build bilateral ties.
“President Aquino welcomed the renewed US strategic focus and rebalancing in the Asia Pacific Region, as well as active participation in the US-ASEAN Leaders Meeting and other regional fora, the White House said.
“President Obama thanked President Aquino for his role as US-ASEAN Dialogue Partner in facilitating the United States’ participation in the East Asia Summit for the first time last year,” it added.
Obama also noted the Philippines is the recipient of a Millennium Challenge grant that is helping to foster greater development and opportunity within the Philippines.
He congratulated Aquino for the work he has done on the Open Government Partnership.
“(The Open Government Partnership) is consistent with his campaign to root out corruption that can facilitate greater economic development within the Philippines,” he said.
On the other hand, the White House statement said both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the bilateral relationship.
“Both leaders reaffirmed their mutual commitment to the peace and security of the region and to the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” it said.
It said Aquino and Obama reviewed recent progress made in enhancing bilateral cooperation since their previous meeting at the East Asia Summit in November.
They welcomed the outcomes of the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue and the first ever “2+2” ministerial consultation in April, including the commitments on regional strategic issues, security and economic cooperation, and supporting the rule of law.
Obama and Aquino also committed to maintaining the intensified pace and scope of Philippine-US bilateral engagement established over the last two years through sustained strategic dialogue and joint activities, in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual responsibility.
Earlier, State Secretary Hillary Clinton hosted a lunch for Aquino where she reiterated the US’ interest in peace in the region.
“As I’ve said many times, the United States does not take a position on the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But we do, however, have a clear interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea,” she said.
Clinton also signed with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario a new agreement that she said will spur joint efforts on science and technology.
“(W)hen our scientists share their ideas and their resources, not only do our two countries but the world reaps the benefits. And we are also increasing the number of United States Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines,” she said. — LBG/HS, GMA News