Manila has 'nothing to gain' from military pact with US

Manila has 'nothing to gain' from military pact with US
Amphibious assault vehicles of the US Marines hitting the beach in Zambales, the Philippines, during a joint naval exercise in October.

A defence pact that Manila and Washington inked early this year serves as only a deterrent to a "shooting war" between the Philippines and China, the Philippines' Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said yesterday.

The Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (Edca) does not require the United States to send its navy in case China attacks any Philippine-held territories in the South China Sea, he said during a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee.

"Right now, we use Edca as a deterrent... as we continue to fill gaps through our modernisation programme," Mr Gazmin said.

Asked by the committee's chairman, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, if the defence pact compels the US to help the Philippines in a clash with China, Mr Gazmin conceded "there is a process that has to be observed". He said the US Congress would have to approve any engagement with China involving the Philippines.

In a news conference after the hearing, Mrs Santiago said: "By the time the US decides to help us, all our ships will already be at the bottom of the sea. This just shows we have absolutely nothing to gain from Edca. The defence is just hypothetical.

"We're just hoping, in our hypothesis, that (the Chinese) will not shoot."

Mr Gazmin insisted that since Edca was signed, China has been deterred from harassing boats sent by the Philippine Navy to resupply a remote outpost.

The outpost is manned by a small group of marines stationed on a World War II-era ship that the Philippines ran aground in 1999 to mark its claim over Second Thomas shoal, which China refers to as Ren'ai reef.

China regularly sends cutters to the reef, which till late last year had figured in skirmishes with boats sent by the Philippines to resupply its outpost.

Edca was signed during US President Barack Obama's visit to the Philippines early this year.

The 10-year agreement allows the US to station more troops and military hardware in several Philippine bases. It was seen as one of the US's most significant defence agreements in decades.

China criticised the pact as a US ploy to contain its influence.

China is locked in disputes with Japan and the Philippines, two of the US' closest allies in Asia, over territories in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

It has pushed its claims over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, and has been building fortresses in the South China Sea that have drawn protests from the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

The Philippines has been pushing for a "code of conduct" - a conflict-resolution mechanism that China has committed to comply with - to de-escalate tension in the South China Sea.

In a recent interview with The Straits Times, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said a case filed with a United Nations tribunal challenging Beijing's claims would not be necessary if a code of conduct could be concluded.

rdancel@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 2, 2014.
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