MANILA, Philippines – China was unfazed by United States (US) President Barack Obama’s tour of four ally nations in Asia that has been regarded as a move to counter China’s influence in the region.
“Whether it is to counter China or not, we will tell based on what the US says and does,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said in a press conference Monday as Obama arrived in Manila after touring Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia.
“As for China not being one of the destinations of President Obama’s trip, I’d say China is right here, whether he comes or not,” he said.
Obama met with President Benigno Aquino III for bilateral talks which included the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that was formally signed a couple of hours before Obama’s arrived.
The EDCA gives the US military access to Philippine military bases for 10-years on a rotational and temporary basis.
Militant groups, however, are protesting the agreement saying that it violates the constitution’s provisions against permanent basing for foreign troops.
Obama, however, said during the joint press conference with Aquino that the US is not looking to retake or build US bases.
Obama also said that the EDCA is not a way to counter China’s aggressive military build-up amid tensions brought by maritime disputes with Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam.
“We hope relevant countries can do things that help countries in this region enhance mutual trust and safeguard regional peace, stability and prosperity,” Qin said.
“As to whether it is a way of containing China, it depends on what the US says and does. President Obama and other US officials have said on multiple occasions that the US has no intention of containing China,” he said.
Qin urged the US to improve ties with China so that there will be progress on the development and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We believe that China and the US, as two countries sharing a wide range of common interests in the Asia-Pacific, should respect each other, enhance cooperation, and work with relevant countries in this region to promote regional peace, stability, development and prosperity,” he said.
Philippines and China are locked in a maritime dispute over the Spartly Group of Islands and Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Arbitration proceedings are ongoing before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea despite China’s protest and refusal to participate.