Pentagon appeals for peace in South China Sea

Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2016 - 10:00am

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Tuesday reaffirmed its call to all countries with conflicting claims to parts of the South China Sea to refrain from reclaiming or militarizing any islands in dispute.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said he could not confirm recent reports that China has deployed anti-cruise missiles on Paracel islands or increased its maritime survey activities around Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal but said all countries involved in maritime disputes should pursue diplomatic and legal solutions to these issues.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech at a World Affairs Council gala in Washington, said five evolving challenges now driving the Pentagon’s planning and budgeting were Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and international terrorism.

Two of the challenges – Russia and China – reflected a recognition of a return to great power competition.

“China is rising which is fine, but behaving aggressively, which is not,” he said.

In a think-tank event also in Washington, a senior defense official said Japan is in talks with the Philippines about participating in joint drills with the US on a regular basis.

Amy Searight, deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, was referring to the Balikatan joint exercises the US and Philippine militaries conduct near the South China Sea, where the latter is involved in territorial disputes with China.

“Japan is talking to the Philippines about a Status of Forces Agreement, so that Japan can regularly participate in those kinds of exercises,” Searight said.

The envisioned agreement would govern the operations of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the Philippines.

“Japan is participating (in the Balikatan drill) as an observer. Japan very much wants to participate more,” she said.

Japan, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has sought closer defense cooperation with the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries in an apparent bid to increase pressure on China, which claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea as well as the Japanese-administered Senkaku group of islets in the East China Sea.

In February, Japan signed a deal with the Philippines to transfer defense equipment and technology as part of efforts to build closer security ties, following similar accords with countries such as Australia, Britain and India.

Ready for drill

In Subic Bay Freeport in the Philippines, US military equipment and vehicles have started to arrive for the Balikatan 2016.

An undetermined number of vehicles and equipment could be seen at the former site of FedEx hub at the Subic airport.

“This military cargo will be used in the coming Balikatan joint military exercise between the United States and the Philippines scheduled from March 18 to April 22 this year,” Robert Chester, director of Liberty Call Logix Corp., told The STAR.

Liberty is a Subic-based one-stop-shop for land, sea and air services coordinating the arrival of the US military cargo.

Chester said some of the delivered military equipment would be for humanitarian, disaster relief assistance and community projects. – Wth Bebot Sison Jr., Kyodo News



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