Obama: China must stop all reclamation

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2015 - 9:00am

US leader pitches for EDCA   

MANILA, Philippines - “Bold steps” are needed to ease tensions in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, including making China stop its reclamation and building of military structures in disputed waters, US President Barack Obama said yesterday.

“We discussed the impact of China’s reclamation and construction activities on regional stability. We agreed on the need for bold steps to lower tensions including pledging to halt further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea,” Obama said in a statement after a bilateral meeting with Aquino on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summot in Manila.

Obama cited his visit last Tuesday to the Philippine Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar where he announced increased maritime assistance to the Philippines.

For his part, Aquino said he and Obama discussed the maritime disputes and security in the region and agreed that international law should guide behavior and actions of all countries with stakes in the region.

“I take this opportunity to reiterate the Philippines’ view that the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea must be continuously upheld, consistent with international law,” Aquino said.

The Philippines resorted to arbitration to clarify its maritime entitlements in the South China Sea as China became more aggressive in reclaiming disputed islands apparently to change their features and expand its exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under the UNCLOS, arbitration is one of the avenues that claimant-countries can resort to for dispute settlement.

Obama expressed support for Manila’s resorting to arbitration and reaffirmed his country’s unwavering commitment to the security and defense of the Philippines.

APEC FAMILY PHOTO: APEC leaders and their spouses pose for the traditional group photo wearing the host country’s native garb, the barong Tagalog, with President Aquino and his sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz before the welcome dinner held at the Mall of Asia Arena last night. AP 

“As I have said earlier, we are not claimants ourselves, but we fully support a process in which through international law and international norms these issues are resolved,” Obama said in a press briefing after his meeting with Aquino.

“And we look forward to working with all parties to move disputes through these channels,” Obama said.

Aquino said they did not discuss getting other claimants to join the Philippines in the arbitration with the US.

But he disclosed that they have been discussing the arbitration case with some of the other claimants, which have been asking the Philippines about its experience and “the studies we have done leading us to the arbitration mode.”

“I think we will just pan or look at a search of previous statements by the other claimant countries are indicative of their watching us closely in this arbitration and are very close to a decision whether or not to join us in arbitration,” Aquino said.

Upon his arrival on Tuesday, Obama said two more ships would be delivered to Manila as part of US commitment to scale up assistance to allied naval forces in Southeast Asia.

“We intend to transfer two additional ships to the Philippine Navy – a research vessel to help man its territorial waters and another Coast Guard cutter to bolster the Navy’s ability to conduct long endurance patrols,” Obama said during his visit to BRP Gregorio del Pilar.

In his meeting with Aquino yesterday, Obama said the US and the Philippines “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” or balikatan.

 “I am grateful for my partnership with President Aquino who has been a valuable and trusted friend to the United States,” Obama said.

The US president lauded Aquino for pursuing reforms and good governance as well as for his advocating “rules-based order in the region, which is critical to regional security and the global economy.”

 “Now, our rebalance to the Asia Pacific is rooted in our treaty alliances including with the Philippines. Our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement when implemented will bring our militaries even closer together, and we are especially committed to ensuring maritime security in the region, including freedom of navigation,” Obama said.

 “As President Aquino indicated, disputes need to be resolved peacefully, that’s why the United States support the Philippines’ decision to use arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to peacefully and lawfully address differences,” Obama said.

For his part, Aquino said he was honored to welcome Obama back to the Philippines after the US leader’s state visit in April last year.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Three APEC leaders arrived yesterday, completing the representation for the summit. Photos show (clockwise, from top left) Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Ambassador to Manila Kok Li Peng, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. JOVEN CAGANDE

Reaffirming partnership

Prior to engaging in comprehensive exchanges in this week’s APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, Aquino said he and Obama took the opportunity to meet and continue their discussions on the enduring bilateral partnership between the Philippines and the US.

 “We reaffirmed our treaty alliance, the strategic partnership and the historic friendship between our countries. I am confident that this firm foundation of broad cooperation and shared values will enable the Philippines and the United States to face the challenges of the present and those in the decades to come,” Aquino said.

“Our defense and security alliance commenced more than 60 years ago; to this day, it remains a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific,” Aquino said.

As a treaty ally of the US, Obama said the Philippines has been receiving security assistance from the US government, particularly through Foreign Military Financing (FMF).

“We recognize, with the deepest appreciation, the significant contribution to our efforts by the United States – contributions that help us ensure that we can ably respond to current security challenges, particularly in the area of maritime security and maritime domain awareness,” Aquino said.

Aquino said the National Coast Watch Center (NCWC), completed early this year, was established with significant assistance from the US. He said the project was first discussed during his visit to Washington in 2012.

 “Our administration is pleased to see it come to fruition this year,” Aquino said.

EDCA urgency

The two leaders also expressed confidence the Supreme Court would decide favorably on EDCA, as Obama called the agreement proof of the US “rock solid” commitment to assist the Philippines militarily.

After his meeting with Obama, Aquino explained that EDCA “seeks to make the operationalization of both forces much more real.”

Aquino cited the “longstanding” Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 and noted that EDCA would allow the Philippines to have access to the most modern technology that would vastly improve its military’s capabilities.

“And that is why we welcome now with very open arms this agreement pending before our Supreme Court,” Aquino said.

“Now, as America gets the use of our bases to be able to have more stability in its ability to project its own power within the region in an effort to help in the stability and the orderliness and the diffusion of the tension (within) the region,” Aquino said.

On the pending SC case against EDCA, Obama said “we are confident that it is going to get done and we are going to be able to implement effectively the provisions and the ideas that have come forward during the course of these discussions.”

“The broader point is that, as a treaty ally, we have a rock solid commitment to the defense of the Philippines,” Obama said.

“And part of our goal is to continue to help our treaty partners build up capacity, to make sure that the architecture of both defense work, but also humanitarian work, and other important activities in the region are coordinated more effectively, and we think that the (EDCA) is going to help us do that,” he added.

Meanwhile, leaders of the House of Representatives welcomed yesterday the pledge of Obama to supply additional military hardware to the Philippines.

“That would be a welcome addition to our under equipped naval forces,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House national defense committee; and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, leader of the independent bloc, said the additional vessels could help secure the West Philippine Sea from further encroachment by China.

 “I’m however very interested in the acquisition process. What are the terms? How much would it cost? Are they donations or are we buying them?” Biazon told The STAR.

“We welcome this gesture of the US to improve the country’s naval forces. We thank President Obama and all heads of state committing any and all types of support,” Romualdez said.

He said the international community and aid groups have also been helpful in assisting the country after Super Typhoon Yolanda and other disasters.

House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said Obama should also provide new patrol vessels to the Philippines. Paolo Romero

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