WASHINGTON — The Philippines has asked the Pentagon for help in upgrading its maritime surveillance capabilities and is particularly interested in acquiring a land-based radar to monitor the wide expanses of the West Philippine Sea, President Aquino said.
In an interview with The Washington Post during his three-day official visit here Aquino said the deployment of surveillance aircraft such as Navy PO-3C Orion planes and Global Hawk drones would be “a welcome development.”
The newspaper quoted Rich Fisher, an Asian security expert at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, as saying a powerful land-based radar could be used by the Philippines, the US and other allies to quickly detect Chinese military movements in the region.
“Such a radar could provide an almost instant way of keeping the Chinese honest,” Fisher said.
In a separate interview with The Wall Street Journal Aquino said a potentially dangerous confrontation between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal area has eased after two tense months but opined other brewing conflicts may not be easily defused.
A permanent solution to the standoff in Panatag, if one is achieved, won’t easily transfer to other looming conflicts, including access to energy resources, Aquino said in the interview.
“This is a very small portion of the entire dispute,” he said.
Panatag is closer to the coastline of the Philippines than it is to China.
The Philippines is in the process of building a “credible defense force” and looks to the United States to supply many of its needs.
Aquino has made a direct pitch to the White House to help bolster his country‘s weak defenses.
The weeks leading to the Aquino-Obama talks here produced much rhetoric about China on both sides of the Pacific and fueled Bejing’s suspicions the two allies may be ganging up on it.
Surprisingly at the end of their talks Aquino and Obama in statements to the press never mentioned China at all.
Their joint statement was equally cautious.
Obama assured Aquino of the US government’s support for Philippine efforts to build a minimum credible defense posture and both leaders reaffirmed their mutual commitment to the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region and to the Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
What form this support would take was not specified.
US: We will closely monitor
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Aquino in a meeting what has now become her mantra: The US is neutral on the competing territorial claims in the South China.
She reaffirmed America’s interest in freedom of navigation, peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea, which the Aquino administration calls West Philippine Sea.
“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.
For all the hype the visit raised, it may in fact have helped dampen the situation, an analyst said.
The Philippines did not get what it had hoped for from the Aquino visit – a clear declaration that Washington would come to its aid if the dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea escalated into actual shooting. What it received were the usual assurances the US would abide by their Mutual Defense Treaty.
Aquino assured Americans he would not drag the US in any military intervention in the crisis and expressed his commitment to diffusing the tension.
US officials have repeatedly made clear America’s pivot to the Asia Pacific is not directed at China.
“What we have are very significant US interests in the continued positive economic development of the region and increasing our trade and investment and exports within the region,” said a senior administration official.
“We want to empower international rules of the road on maritime security, not to isolate any one nation or to take a position on a claim, for instance in the South China Sea, but rather to make sure that claims can be resolve peacefully,” he added.