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Monday, June 27, 2011

South China Sea: Exercising Open Seas

U.S. Navy ships are participating in an exercise with the Philippine Navy as described here:
Three warships from the United States Navy (USN) are dropping anchor in the island province of Palawan on Tuesday for this year’s launching of the joint Philippines-US Naval war exercises aimed at further developing maritime security capabilities of the two nations’ naval forces.

Aside from two missile-guided destroyers – USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) and USS Howard (DDG-83) and a diving and salvage ship USNS Safegurd (T-ARS 50), 800 US sailors are also participating in the 17th joint holding of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), a naval war games that would be held within the maritime domain of the Philippine Navy’s Naval Forces West.

These US sailors as well as their other military assets that will be participating in the CARAT with their Filipino Navy counterparts, are composed of US Navy Seabees, representatives from the US Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST), the US Navy Mobile Security Squadron, a US Navy Riverine Force and Medical Support personnel.

CARAT would be held in the nearby waters of the West Philippine Sea where tension has been mounting for weeks now due to China’s aggressiveness in asserting its territorial claim over the entire region which the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan are also claiming in whole or in part.
The U.S. and the Philippines have Mutual Defense Treaty which has come to the fore as China has been more aggressive in laying claim to large chunks of the South China Sea.

This has, in turn, caused some in the Philippines to worry about depending too heavily in the U.S. and the MDT, as set out in Aquino gov’t urged not to rely too much on US for Spratlys defense< which reads to me a little like it was written in China:
The Aquino administration has said that the Philippines can invoke its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the U.S. to defend its territorial claim in the Spratlys. The government said modern military equipment would be purchased in the US. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin even asked for US navy ships’ deployment in the South China Sea to check Chinese aggression.

The US Embassy in Manila, however, stopped short of promising direct military support amid assurances that the Philippines remained a “strategic ally” and that both countries would continue “to consult and work with each other on all issues including the South China Sea and Spratlys Islands.”

Instead of committing specific military support to defend the Philippines’ claim, the American envoy called for “restraint” in the territorial row.

Tuazon pointed out while American policy on the Spratlys issue has always served its own interests and not the Philippines’, Filipino officials continued to have an “intractable belief” that the country’s national interests would be best enhanced by its special ties with the US.

He noted that the Unclos, approved in 1994, has not yet been ratified by the US. Washington, he said, has been particularly opposed to the provision in the convention pertaining to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for being unfavorable “to American economic and security interests.”

China, according to Tuazon, will continue to adhere to its foreign policy in ensuring a peaceful environment conducive for steering an economy now considered as the second largest in the world with a global projection that will require a modern maritime and defense system.

“Even as it says it will use military means only as a last resort to defend its territorial claims, China cannot afford a war in the South China Sea at this time. War will not favor China’s growing trade and investments in Southeast Asia,” Tuazon said.

This was the reason why China had backed joint seismic and oil exploration of the waters of the Spratlys and reiterated for bilateral diplomatic talks with other claimant-countries.

Philippine government policy makers have been “ill-informed” in presuming that the country’s territorial claims, even if guided by economic objectives, must be pursued under the protection of the US, Tuazon said.

“The spontaneous choice of invoking the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) and the purchase of modern arms vis-à-vis allegations of Chinese aggression reveal that unseen hands – both within the Aquino Cabinet and the military institutions – are exerting yet again a strong influence in determining the country’s foreign policy track when negotiation should be the priority,” he added.

“The only winners in a war scenario are arms suppliers – and these are aplenty in the US. They are not just lurking – they have the capability to provoke profit-oriented wars,” he said.

Tuazon questioned whether the territorial dispute might be used to justify huge budgets for the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization, the purchase of military supplies, and the keeping of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, even if there have been moves in the Philippine Congress to submit it for review or abolish it.

“Is this not therefore playing into the hands of war hawks in the Pentagon to use America’s numerous defense treaties with the Philippines and other countries in East Asia in increasing and realigning its security forces toward the strategic encirclement of China? Can’t this actually be the bigger source of tension and conflict in the South China Sea?” Tuazon asked.
For those unfamiliar with Palawan, it was the site of a horrific slaughter of World War II when American POWs were killed after having been captured in the defense of the Philippines.

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