On Thursday, the Philippines foreign ministry issued a statement in which it said that in 2012, the US military funding to Philippines is going to triple. The statement expressed unhappiness over Philippines' declining share in the Foreign Military Financing provided by the US. Manila wants the US to recognize Philippines' strategic military importance in Asia. Philippine government is increasingly feeling the heat from China which claims most parts of South China Sea.
In recent times, Philippines and China have been involved in territorial disputes around the Penatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the South China Sea. The area is at a distance of 124 nautical miles from the Zambales province in Philippines. From the main island of Luzon in Philippines, the Shoal is just 124 nautical miles away. However, it is 648 nautical miles away from the nearest Hainan province of China. Still, China claims all of South China Sea territory, even areas that are closer to the Philippines coasts and other nearby countries.
Philippine government maintains that the area is within its Exclusive Economic Zone which is considered within 200 nautical miles of a country. However, China claims sovereign rights over all the territories lying within South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal as well as Paracel and Spratly Islands. The maritime dispute with China has been going on for many years but in the last two weeks the intensity of this dispute has increased. The Philippines government wants to solve the dispute using international mediation but this is not acceptable to China which vehemently opposes this idea.
The increasing tension with China has forced Philippines to boost its military capabilities. At present, the country is no match for China and so it has been forced to seek increased military assistance from the US. Manila is trying to build a minimum credible defense to protect its territory. It is seeking different types of military hardware like coast watch stations, radar systems, military uniforms, combat gear, and patrol aircrafts and vessels. To discuss these requirements, Albert del Rosario, the Philippines Foreign Secretary was recently in Washington. This week he held high-level talks there and asked for increased military assistance.
He was of the view that supporting Philippines is necessary to ensure peaceful maritime territorial dispute settlements, uninterrupted commercial activities and freedom of navigation. He urged other countries to support Philippines and not leave it alone to fight such disputes on its own. He informed that his country is open to international arbitration which has been rejected by China.
On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State made it clear that the US is not going to take side in any such territorial dispute. At the same time, she made it clear that no country should use force to settle such claims. She also reaffirmed her country's obligation and commitments towards the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1952. The Treaty forms the basis of strong military ties between the Philippines and the United States.
Philippine government is looking for closer military cooperation with the US. Recently, military units from both countries concluded Balikatan 2012 war exercise. Philippines Navy is going to receive Hamilton-class cutter from the US. This will be used to augment its Navy strength which already has another high-endurance cutter – the BRP Gregorio del Pilar.
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