Manila to allow larger Washington military presence

Updated: 2013-08-10 11:12

By Zhou Wa (China Daily)

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Move could challenge favorable atmosphere for peace in Asia-Pacific

Manila's proposal to allow a greater US military presence in the Southeast Asian country will challenge the favorable atmosphere for regional peace and harm Washington's interests, analysts said on Friday.

The Philippines should give up its vain hope that the United States will allow whatever it wants to safeguard its claims in the South China Sea, although Washington always tries to keep tension in the region to a certain degree, they added.

The comments followed an Associated Press report on Thursday citing statements by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Secretary Albert Rosario saying that Manila will soon start talks with Washington on an "increased rotational presence" - a plan first announced by the Philippine defense department in June.

The increased military presence will help Manila attain a "minimum credible defense" to guard its territory and modernize its military, the two ministers said in a letter to their country's congressional leaders.

More military presence from the US, an outside power, will bring more uncertainties in the South China Sea and harm Washington's own economic interests in the region, said Wang Fan, a professor of international affairs at China Foreign Affairs University.

"The US will not allow the Philippines to do whatever it wants to do with its territorial disputes with China at the cost of general stability in the Asia-Pacific region," said Wang.

"Washington needs a relatively stable Southeast Asia to implement its strategy of Trans-Pacific Partnership and gain economic interests".

But it seems the US is willing to keep the tension in the South China Sea at a certain degree, said Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The tension offers a good excuse for Washington to deploy more military forces to the Asia-Pacific region under its Asia rebalancing strategy, given that some regional countries may ask the US for help to cope with territorial disputes", he said.

Manila has long been seeking to upgrade its military and draw military powers outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea issue, in a bid to strengthen its hand to bargain with China on the dispute in the future, said Li.

Although the US has not confirmed Manila's statements, it has repeatedly insisted that it would not take sides in the disputes in the South China Sea, but it has continually offered support to the Philippines by helping the country upgrade its military capacity.

"The reason is Washington hopes to make use of the South China Sea issue to sustain its dominance in Asia Pacific", said Wang.

Meanwhile, the Philippine's attempt to improve its military offers a good opportunity for the US to sell its advanced arms to the country, he said.

Earlier this week, the Philippines took formal possession of a renovated former US Coast Guard cutter, and it already received another former US cutter in 2011.

The presence of foreign troops is also a sensitive issue in the Philippines, experts said.

The Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to close down major US bases at Subic Bay and Clark, near Manila.

The Philippine Constitution forbids foreign troops from being permanently stationed in the country, but the US negotiated with the Philippines and its Senate finally ratified a pact with Washington in 1999 that allows temporary visits by US forces.

AP contributed to the story.