MANILA, Philippines—The US defense secretary has reaffirmed Washington’s cooperation with the Philippines on defense, noting the country’s role in maintaining stability in the Asia Pacific, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.
In their first meeting since his appointment in February, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “assured” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of his nation’s steadfast ties with the Philippines and called for furthering cooperation amid mutual concerns in the region.
“Secretary Hagel conveyed to us the need for the Philippines and the United States to further deepen our partnership to uphold peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region. [He] expressed his appreciation for what the Philippines is doing in the region and noted that our partnership is critical in our part of the world,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
“He assured us the US will continue to do what it can to further strengthen its relations with the Philippines,” he added.
Del Rosario met with Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Tuesday following his talk with Secretary of State John Kerry at the state department in Washington, D.C., where both officials vowed to boost the US-Philippines strategic alliance.
The meeting came ahead of Friday’s kickoff of the Balikatan joint military exercise, where some 20 US air assets and a US Navy ship will also take part in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drills.
In a separate statement, the US Embassy in Manila quoted Hagel as saying “he was pleased with the progress being made toward an increased rotational presence of US military forces in the Philippines.”
The embassy further said the Philippine and US sides “discussed US capacity building to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization plans and regional security issues, including the South China Sea, the recent violence in Sabah and North Korea.”
Del Rosario also updated Pentagon officials on the Philippines’ decision to hale China before the United Nations arbitral tribunal to seek a halt to Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim to resource-rich islands in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
China, however, continues to snub the proceedings, citing “indisputable sovereignty” over the disputed waters, but the arbitration process is expected to continue per UN protocol.