US takes alliances âvery seriouslyâ â Pentagon
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the newly established China Task Force of the US Department of Defense will be looking into the current state of its military-to-military contacts in the Indo-Pacific.
US Department of Defense/ Released

US takes alliances ‘very seriously’ – Pentagon

Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The United States takes its responsibilities to its treaty alliances including that with the Philippines “very seriously,” a Pentagon official said over the weekend.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the newly established China Task Force of the US Department of Defense will be looking into the current state of its military-to-military contacts in the Indo-Pacific.

He said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made it very clear that he believes China is the chief pacing challenge for the department and that the Indo-Pacific region is of critical importance to the US and its allies and partners.

“You have seen in just the two or three weeks that the secretary has been in office that he’s continuing to make it clear, particularly in South China Sea, that the United States forces are going to sail and fly and operate in accordance with international law, as needed, to protect our security interests and those of our allies and partners,” Kirby said in a press briefing on Friday (Saturday in Manila).

“Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific, and we take those responsibilities very seriously,” he said.

US President Joe Biden announced the establishment of the China Task Force during a visit at the Pentagon last week. The task force will help craft a comprehensive China policy and assess Austin’s most important challenges and opportunities regarding China.

“So there’s a sharp focus on that region and China in particular. A lot of work to do, but clearly a sharp focus on it,” Kirby added.

Dr. Ely Ratner, who was announced by Biden to head the China Task Force at the Pentagon, said the task force will look into the military-to-military contacts in the Indo-Pacific to determine areas to be improved or enhanced.

“Absolutely, I think both in the context of how are we approaching our alliances and partnerships but also how are we approaching our defense relations with China? Absolutely, we’ll be looking at both of those,” Ratner said in a press briefing.

Ratner, a China expert, said the defense chief sees China as the number-one pacing challenge for the US and the “China task force is a manifestation of that.”

Robredo scores Duterte over VFA ‘fee’

Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo slammed yesterday President Duterte’s demand for the US “to pay” in order to retain the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), saying it sounded like extortion.

“It sounded like an extortion. It seemed like a criminal asking someone to pay if he wants to get what he wants,” Robredo said in her show BISErbisyong Leni over dzXL.

The Vice President said the Duterte administration should state clearly the reasons why it thinks the VFA should be terminated.

“If we don’t want to grant the VFA it should be because of reasons that would benefit us and not because they would not pay us,” she said.

“To me, it’s embarrassing, it seems like we are extorting money. When we say we don’t want to renew the VFA, let’s lay down the reasons why. Let’s prove why this is disadvantageous to us, and money is not a consideration,” she added.

Duterte unilaterally terminated the VFA last year. The VFA allows Philippine and US troops to hold joint exercises in the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier said a high-level meeting is scheduled in the last week of this month to discuss the fate of the VFA. A bilateral meeting on defense between the Philippines and the US was held last Feb. 11. Locsin declined to provide further details, saying it “involves our national security and defense.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a phone conversation with Locsin last month, stressed the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty for the security of the US and the Philippines. The MDT states that each country would come to the defense of the other in case of an attack by a foreign country. Blinken pledged “to stand with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of China pressure.” – Helen Flores

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