MANILA, Philippines - The United States wants to expand the Balikatan joint exercises to include other countries in the region, believing this would enable them to address common security concerns.
Brig. Gen. Michael Compton, assistant for strategic planning and policy mobilization of the US Pacific Command, said they have proposed that another country participate in next year’s exercise.
“We propose maybe adding one country next year because Australia recently signed a SOVFA (Status of Visiting Forces Agreement) with the Philippines. This is a great opportunity to use that agreement. We all have a common strategic and economic interest,” Compton told The STAR yesterday.
He said another country that may participate in the exercise is Japan, which he said has a close relationship with the Philippines and “share a lot of common interests.”
Like the Philippines, Japan is also in the middle of a diplomatic row with China over territorial issues.
Compton said the inclusion of other countries in the Balikatan exercise will be gradual because this would require more coordination and resources.
“It’s a goal of the US Pacific Command to increase regional stability and peace and to do that the best way is to build partnerships not just with one (country) or (through) bilateral (agreements) but also multilateral partnerships using organizations like ASEAN,” Compton said, referring to the 10-member regional grouping Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“But we are also starting with bilateral (agreements) like Balikatan and adding one or two countries at a time,” he added.
Compton noted that the US and the countries in the region are concerned with issues like piracy, terrorism, transnational crimes, violent extremist groups, transnational flow of drugs, human trafficking and natural disasters.
“HADR (humanitarian and disaster response) is something that happens to everyone. Disaster does not look at a border and stop. Only by working together can we be prepared. This requires tremendous cooperation and tremendous resources,” he said.
He said countries can learn from the Philippines’ experiences in responding to disasters. He said the US personnel who are preparing for Balikatan 2013 have participated in relief and rescue efforts in areas hit by typhoon “Pablo.”
Compton was one of the US security officials who attended the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, which ended last Thursday. The dialogue served as a venue for Philippine and US officials to discuss security matters.
Earlier, the Department of National Defense (DND) said Australia is exploring the possibility of joining the Balikatan exercises.
The DND said the issue was tackled during the 11th Joint Defense Cooperation Committee meet held last October in Manila.
Balikatan literally means shoulder to shoulder and is an annual exercise designed to enhance the interoperability between US and Philippine troops. It is in line with the Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the two countries in 1951.
The 11th Joint Defense Cooperation Committee was held three months after the Senate ratified the SOVFA between Philippines and Australia.