US commander: China friction ebbing

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WASHINGTON—A top US commander said Tuesday that China has been entering fewer confrontations with its neighbors as he credited a firm line by Washington and its allies with changing Beijing’s thinking.

President Barack Obama’s administration has put a growing focus on Asia, stepping up trade ties and moving to maintain the strength of US forces in the region despite overall cuts to the military budget.

But Admiral Robert Willard, the outgoing head of the US Pacific Command which covers Asia, offered conciliatory words toward China in an appearance before Congress, saying that Beijing’s rise was in the US interest.

“We’ve seen fewer confrontations in 2012 than we did in previous years. 2010 was quite landmark in terms of the confrontations” in the South China Sea, Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Willard said that China — whose military spending has been sharply rising in recent years — was still actively staking claims and challenging vessels that conduct operations in the hotly disputed waters.

But he said that “very strong statements” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former defense secretary Robert Gates and members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations likely made an impression on China.

The public comments “I think took China aback and has caused them to reconsider that particular approach to their South China Sea (West Philippine) claims,” Willard said.

“They are endeavoring to continue to pursue it, but in a more thoughtful manner,” Willard said in response to a question from the Senate committee.

Clinton, during a visit to Vietnam in July 2010, declared that the United States had an active interest in “freedom of navigation” in the West Philippine Sea, where six nations hold competing and often overlapping claims.

The United States has also stepped up cooperation with Vietnam and the Philippines, which had both accused China of harassing their ships at sea, and plans to station troops in Australia.

The Obama administration has also stepped up pressure on trade, on Tuesday setting up a new agency to crack down on what the United States sees as unfair practices.

China has accused the United States of interference. Last month, Chinese state-controlled media said Beijing should impose sanctions on the Philippines over its offer to allow more US troops on its soil.

Some conservative critics of Obama have accused him of encouraging bellicose actions by China by putting too much focus on cooperation with the rising Asian power at the start of his term.

Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate hoping to challenge Obama in US elections in November, has said that Obama was a “near supplicant” to Beijing who has “only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made allies question our staying power in East Asia.”

Asked about China’s rise, Willard told senators that Southeast Asian nations, despite their disputes with Beijing, wanted strong economic and other relations both with China and the United States.

“China’s economic growth has benefited the entire region and has certainly benefited the United States and our economic ties to China. So I think it would be unfair to imply that China’s influence in Southeast Asia should only be regarded from the standpoint of the challenge that it poses,” Willard said.

Willard said that the US presence in the West Philippine was vital as some $5.3 trillion in trade flow through the region each year, around one-fifth of it in US commerce.

“The US military must be present there to ensure the security of those sea lines of communication and that important economic commerce for the United States and for our regional allies and partners,” Willard said.

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  • Anonymous

    This is the job of the US Navy! The US military must be present there to ensure the security of those sea lines just like in the North Arabian Sea.
     Open and free trade is a must for the world!

  • http://twitter.com/Perdition2012 Rey Gan

    For that, joint US and AFP presence in the disputed area is very much appreciated.  Clearly without US help, China would still be harassing us now and muscling its way in the Spratleys until they took control of our territory.  As you can see, its belligerent, arrogant stance had turned to a softy panda bear.   Pustahan tayo, kukontra na naman mga troublemakers ng Pinas like Bayan Muna and their minions.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BWDVETXQ3J54HDIFWHNNYKX6AY Navi

    The US as an imperialist has been invading weak countries to impose it’s economic, political and military will, no doubt about this, the Philippines is an example. China has no record of invasion. The US will now focus on the Asia Pasific region as a start to invade China or force it to bend its knees and become a US puppet.

    • Anonymous

      Probably you have a very poor knowledge of where this country’s security and well being is centered. To term the US, an imperialist and, an invader of weak nations is grossly an erroneous view. A pointer that you should know, that’s if you just recovered from amnesia When the marauding Japanese burned this country in WW2, was it not the US that brought back to the Filipinos, the human dignity.
      What’s happening now, the likes of you welcome the Japanese with open arms and let them control almost every major industrial conglomerate with collaboration of the Tsinoys, not much of the Americans.
      When Bagiuo went down with a massive earthquake in 1990 and Mt. Pinotubo the next, where were the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese? The US foreign policy may not be the butter for some countries run by dictators and with almost most Islamic nations, but the US always had the heart to provide first hand aid to anyone regardless of religion and race. The Tsunami in Asia, the massive floods in Pakistan and many others. On the contrary China was exporting anarchism by way of: Communism throughout South East Asia in ’50s and ’60s till time went the other way for them.
      Back home here, Beijing is determined to grab our resources in the West Philippines Sea.Clearly it proves China is the invader (learn what’s happening in Tibet), and who is there to stop this outlandish, blatant aggression against this nation, ASEAN? We kick the Americans out, because the nationalist and moneyed supporters swayed us, but the US will aid us against aggressors like China without hesitation.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/3NLWSMXCGCEWCVMF3ZVWFZ4FBU Nick

        Well said avmphil. The silent Majority of Filipinos are behind you.

      • Anonymous

        Really now? And how much do your Communist masters pay you to speak such lies? I think people like you fear the US because they actually seek to promote freedom, mutual beneficience, and cooperation rather than selfish tyranny, one-sided profits, and oppression. History has shown time and time again that hard-line Communists will claim by force what they cannot claim by right and that is something neither the US, nor the majority of us will bow down to without a fight.

    • Anonymous

      The US has not invaded any weak countries. This is just NPA talk anti American propaganda

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AYITA5V33GYZSLC3G37UCVNTKA Ben

       The reason why China is too quiet is because of the politcal transitions that are going on in their country. Once the next administration solidify its power base expect the unexpected to occur.

      The coming reshuffle at the top will be mirrored across China, with thousands of local mayors, provincial party secretaries and governors, as well as ministers and their deputies stepping down this year. The new ones will discuss the coming massive change and what it might mean for them and China, after that they will turn to the Spratly`s again.

       While the Philippines has to continue its homework in soldifying its foreign treaties designed to keep the status quo.This government should continue to strengthen the security shield of our country by building our own array of radar complexes, naval, submarine and air assets as well as missile defences to complement each other for a more forceful active defense shield in order to give a would be intruder such as the Chinese a second thought….since this will take time depending on the prevailing politcal will and prevailing budget…the US presence is a strategic solution to restrain China from overt or covert creeping invasion of our West Philippine sea and the Kalayaan as well as the Scarborough shoal area.

  • http://joboni96.myopenid.com/ joboni96

    ‘US military must be present there to ensure the security of those sea lines of communication’

    yan ang gusto na u.s.
    para sa tsina encirclement strategy niya

    lets get out from the
    tsina-u.s. nuclear crossfire

    pero magandang ilagay sa gitna ang
    mga u.s. collaborators

    who insists on
    more and wider tagong stealth u.s. bases
    sa ating bayan

    • Anonymous

      What nuclear crossfire there is no war If you worried about nuclear war you should worry about countries like Iran and North Korea.

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