‘China misunderstands Philippines-US military activities’

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – By its strong and negative reaction to the intensified joint Philippine-US military activities in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, China “misunderstands” their purpose, which is to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce, Malacañang said yesterday.

“We believe that the People’s Republic of China through its statements misunderstands or perhaps does not properly appreciate the purpose of our activities with the United States. These are to ensure freedom of navigation in the region which benefits all nations because it allows the free, unhampered flow of trade which is to the benefit of all the economies of the region,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said over radio dzRB.

Beijing earlier said the US and the Philippines showed their “Cold War mentality” with their joint patrols in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea.

But Quezon pointed out the “peaceful and highly uncontroversial exercises” were meant to ensure that prosperity would be continuous under a regime of stability in the region.

“As always, this is proof of a strong and continuing alliance between our two nations,” Quezon said, referring to the joint military activities.

After announcing that the US and the Philippines had started joint maritime patrols last month, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said his country was committed to back Manila against coercion and intimidation amid China’s massive land reclamation and construction activities in the South China Sea.

He issued the pronouncement before boarding the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis as it sailed in disputed waters Friday.

Quezon defended the enhanced alliance between the US and the Philippines as well as the assistance Washington was providing the country.

“For example...we have a Hamilton-class cutter, which is, let’s admit, a late 1960s ship. But that’s already a generation or more advanced than what we used to have. So in other words, if we have a bicycle, we need to go through training wheels first,” Quezon said.

“They’re perfectly good vessels and we have seen how good and useful they are,” he said.

He reminded China that other countries – and not only the US – were supporting the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea issue, including Manila’s turning to international arbitration.

Quezon also pointed out the military alliance between the Philippines and the US dates back to 1951, referring to the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Carter’s trip to the Stennis was seen as the latest effort by the US to show its commitment to maintaining security in the hotly contested waters.

But China’s defense ministry said the joint naval patrols only “promote the militarization of the region.” 

“The Chinese army will monitor this trend closely, and will resolutely safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty as well as maritime rights and interests,” it said.

“With each Balikatan and each cruise by the Stennis, with each new multilateral exercise and each new defense agreement, we add a stitch to the fabric of the region’s security network,” Carter said in a speech at the closing ceremonies for the Balikatan joint exercise.

“This is the network – peaceful, principled and inclusive – America continues to stand for, and stand with,” he said.

“Together you rehearsed maritime interdiction operations so we can respond more quickly to threats at sea and together you simulated the recovery of oil and gas platform for possible forces in the South China (Sea),” Carter told US and Philippine troops.

Some Philippine military officials expressed belief Carter’s visit to the Stennis while it was moored near the gas-rich Recto Bank was a clear message to China that it should rethink its nine-dash line claim.

“It is an assurance that we have allies who are supporting our position in the West Philippine Sea. It’s a strong message to China to reconsider its nine-dash line maritime claim,” a senior military official, who declined to be named, said. – With Jaime Laude

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