Agreement could ignite regional tensions: Chinese media

BEIJING - The new US-Philippine defence pact is a "disturbing" move that would stoke regional tensions, China's state media warned as its diplomats urged closer cooperation with the United States to maintain peace and stability.

The Xinhua news agency noted in a commentary yesterday that the 10-year "enhanced defence cooperation agreement" was being signed amid deepening friction between Beijing and Manila, two of six claimants locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

"Given that the Philippines is in a bitter territorial row with China, the move is particularly disturbing as it may embolden Manila in dealing with Beijing. A more assertive or even reckless Manila would stoke regional tensions and, in turn, upset Obama's policy of rebalancing," it said of the agreement signed yesterday morning ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to the Philippines, the last stop of his four-nation Asia tour.

Xinhua also said that striking the deal at this time with the US clearly demonstrated Philippine President Benigno Aquino's intention "to confront China with US backing".

It cited how Manila has challenged Beijing's claims and even taken the dispute to an international tribunal instead of sticking to bilateral negotiations.

"An emboldened Aquino would make an amicable solution to the territorial disputes more difficult, if not impossible, and intensify regional tensions," wrote Xinhua.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang also panned the pact, which will allow the US to deploy more troops on a rotational basis and will help the Philippines to acquire new combat aircraft and warships more easily.

Asked at a regular briefing yesterday if the pact is aimed at containing China, Mr Qin said: "We have to watch what the US says and does. Americans, including President Obama, have said at different venues that the US has no intentions of containing China."

He added that China and the US have shared interests in the Asia-Pacific, and that both should work more alongside "relevant countries" to advance regional peace, stability and prosperity.

This article was published on April 29 in The Straits Times.

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