As U.S., Filipino troops open war drills, Scarborough Shoal standoff continues
By FRED GABOT
MANILA – The United States and the Philippines opened war games in Palawan amid the rising tension in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea over conflicting claims by six countries of Spratlys chain of islands.
Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III assured that Manila will not start war with China even as he stressed that the country will defend its sovereignty against the aggressors.
Aquino’s assurances came amidst the statement ofUS Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the US was not seeking was not seeking conflict with a rising China but urged emerging powers to act more “constructively” in the world.
Clinton, pointing out that US has no Cold War with China, offered to defend those affected by aggression, stressing that only the US has the power and capability to do that.
Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will be meeting Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Garcia in Washington D.C. later this month in a dialogue on security, economy and other concerns, including the current conflict with China.
The meeting will lay the groundwork for the first US state visit of President Aquino and finally a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House after four visits already in US
More than 7,000 American and Filipino soldiers are participating in the exercises until April 27 called “Balikatan” some of which were to be held in Palawan and near the Spratlys.
This developed as a standoff between the Philippines and China continued over Scarborough Shoals which is only about 120 miles from Zambales as Chinese surveillance ships and Philippine Navy ship and Coast Guard ship stand guard in the area.
At press time, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario said the Philippines was filing a case in the International Court of Justice and urged China to answer the petition there to avoid any armed conflict in the region.
Earlier, the Philippines filed diplomatic protest against China for its incursions on Philippine territory and part of the economic zone.
In Maryland, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted by wire reports as saying the United States was not seeking conflict with a rising China but urged emerging powers to act more “constructively” in the world.
As academics in China and elsewhere increasingly speak of US decline, Clinton offered a robust defense of the United States and said it still had the military power, innovative companies, and core values to make it “exceptional.”
Addressing at the US Naval Academy, Clinton said that 2012 “is not 1912, when friction between a declining Britain and a rising Germany set the stage for global conflict.”
“We are not seeking new enemies. Today’s China is not the Soviet Union. We are not on the brink of a new Cold War in Asia,” Clinton told the academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
“A thriving China is good for America, and a thriving America is good for China – so long as we both thrive in a way that contributes to the regional and global good,” she said.
“Only the United States has the global reach, the resources, and the resolve to deter aggression, rally coalitions, and project stability into diverse and dynamic regions of danger, threat, and opportunity,” Clinton said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa denied the US-Philippine drills were part of preparation against China.
Dellosa, however, stressedd Filipino troops need to hone their skills in joint military exercises with the United States in light of the standoff with China at the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
In his address during the opening rites of the Balikatan exercises, Dellosa said “it is imperative for our ground forces to sustain operational readiness keeping in mind the critical times that we are in now.”
“It is during these times that our alliances must be reaffirmed and through Balikatan, in which joint Philippine-US activities are conducted, we know of course readiness is achieved,” he said.
He said while the military has had successes in terms of internal security operations, “we remain in a shadow of doubt pertaining to certain international issues.”
For his part, US ambassador Harry Thomas said the capability of both Philippine and US militaries “will be more graphic and more accurate because of the training you are undergoing now.”
Th Balikatan, which will involve 4,500 US troops and 2,300 Filipino soldiers, will focus more on humanitarian assistance and disaster response. The exercises will run until April 27.
Militant groups defaced the seal of the United States embassy in Manila to protest the presence of US military in this year’s Balikatan exercises.
President Aquino declared the Philippines would not start a war with China over the disputed Panatag shoal.
Aquino said Manila would assert its sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal but had pulled out a warship and replaced it with a Philippine Coast Guard vessel to “de-escalate the situation.”
Mr. Aquino said the Philippines would continue talks with China to resolve the impasse, which began on Tuesday last week when two Chinese ships prevented the crew of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the country’s largest warship, from arresting several Chinese fishermen.
Mr. Aquino, quoting the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, said: “It’s better to jaw, jaw, jaw than to war, war, war.”
Manila lodged a protest with China Monday, accusing Chinese ships and aircraft of harassing the M/Y Saranggani, a Philippine-registered boat doing archaeological research in the area.
“The Philippines demanded that the Chinese ships and aircraft cease the harassments of and fly-bys over M/Y Saranggani so that the boat and its crew can complete its work,” said Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez.
Defense Secretary Gazmin said he plans to discuss the ongoing territorial dispute with China with US counterpart Leon Panetta in Washington at the end of the month.
Gazmin said he will be joined by Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario in the meeting, scheduled on April 30. Joining Panetta in the upcoming meeting is Secretary of the State Hilary Clinton.
Gazmin said the meeting will discuss regional issues, bilateral ties, defense and economic cooperation.