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Obama visit seen to boost security ties mid China row

By , Michael Lim Ubac

SMILES AT THE SUMMITRY Presidents Aquino and Obama are photographed here in the 2011 Asean Summit in Bali, Indonesia. They will meet again at the 2013 Apec, and on Oct. 11-12 here in Manila, which the US president is visiting for the first time. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Philippines early next month will help expand security ties with the United States’ longtime Asian ally and former colony, the government said Saturday.

Obama’s Philippine visit, the first by a US president since George Bush in 2003, is part of a four-nation Asia tour that includes Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia from Oct. 6 to 12.

The US president will be visiting the Philippines from Oct. 11 to 12 on the invitation of President Aquino, said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Malacañang said it could not provide any more details of the Obama visit, which was announced by the White House early Saturday.

Obama’s long-anticipated visit to the country will “bring new impetus” to the ties between the United States and the Philippines, a former US colony that is now one of its strongest Asia-Pacific allies, said Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

“The visit of President Obama highlights the continuous strengthening of our two countries’ strategic partnership and enduring alliance, fortified by our shared history and our common commitment to the ideals of freedom and democracy,” Del Rosario said in a text message.

“President Obama will meet President Aquino to discuss ways to further strengthen the enduring Philippine-US alliance, including the expansion of our security, economic and people-to-people ties,” said Lacierda in a statement.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. said the visit will give Obama a firsthand look at reforms and developments in the country’s governance and economy.

“The visit to Manila is an opportunity for President Obama to personally witness the economic transformation in the Philippines that was engendered by President Aquino’s good governance agenda,” he said in a statement.

Increased US presence

The visit comes amid talks between the two treaty allies on expanding US military presence in the country, at a time when the Philippines seeks to counter what it perceives as a growing threat from China.

The proposed deal, called the Framework Agreement on Increased Rotational Presence and Enhanced Defense Cooperation, will allow more US troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines, as Washington refocuses its attention on Asia.

Obama’s visit follows recent high-level visits of US officials to the country, including US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier this month and a delegation from the US Congress in February.

Hagel said after a visit to the Philippines last month that the two sides were moving toward completing a framework agreement.

The treaty-reviewing Senate voted to close down the US’ large bases in the Philippines amid growing anti-US sentiment in 1991.

But the Philippines now faces territorial disputes at sea with China and has asked for US assistance to better monitor coastal waters.

The US, meanwhile, is seeking to bolster its ties across Southeast Asia, partly to counter China’s growing military power.

A done deal?

Philippine officials earlier expressed optimism the talks on the framework agreement on increased US presence here would be finalized this year. The third round of talks was scheduled in Washington on Friday.

The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said Obama’s visit could signal that the agreement was “already a done deal,” warning of possible breaches of the Constitution.

“The Manila visit could mean that the agreement is already a done deal. The agreement could be signed anytime soon, or even during Obama’s visit. This sets the stage for US de facto basing in our country, in violation of our Constitution and our sovereignty,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes in a statement.

Leftist groups have long been opposed to US presence in the Philippines.

Greater bases access

The Philippines said in June it was looking to give the US, as well as Japan, greater access to its bases, as it seeks to counter what it perceives as a growing threat from China.

China—which contests maritime areas with the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan—on Friday issued its latest warning for the US to stay out of disputes.

The US “should not send wrong signals that support or connive with relevant countries to act on their own initiative,” senior Chinese military officer Wang Guanzhong told a US official in Beijing.

The Obama administration has repeatedly urged freedom of navigation and has stepped up military cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam.

Obama will take part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia, then head to the sultanate of Brunei for the East Asia Summit and finally participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Malaysia, an initiative on job growth that the US leader designed as a way to reach out to the Islamic world.

‘Muddled message’

Russia traditionally participates in the regional meetings, potentially giving Obama his latest opportunity to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has spearheaded a proposal for Syrian President Bashar Assad to put his chemical weapons under international control, at least temporarily halting a US push for a military strike in retaliation for the regime’s alleged use of the weapons.

Michael Green, who was the top Asia adviser to former US President George W. Bush, said that Obama’s “muddled message” on Syria could cast a pall over his public reception in Malaysia and Indonesia.

“If the process that the Russians have manufactured goes nowhere, which is very likely, and we’re back to debate and possibly the use of force, that is not the context that you want to take into countries like Malaysia or Indonesia,” said Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“You can’t always make the summit about Asia when something in the other part of the world is catching the White House press corps’ attention,” he said.

Rounds off Asean visits

With the trip, Obama would have visited all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), except communist nations Vietnam and Laos.

The US has been seeking better relations with both nations. Obama in July received Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, who was paying the second visit by a Vietnamese head of state to the White House since the two nations fought a more-than-a-decade long war in the 1960s and 1970s.

Obama pledged to visit Vietnam but did not give a date. Vietnamese-American activists had urged Obama not to visit on his upcoming trip, saying he should first seek improvements in human rights.

The US president, who spent part of his youth in Indonesia, has put a priority on building relations with Southeast Asia, seeing the fast-growing and largely US-friendly region as neglected in the past.

The trip is “part of his ongoing commitment to increase US political, economic and security engagement with the Asia Pacific,” the statement said. With a report from AFP



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Tags: Albert Del Rosario , Bagong Alyansang Makabayan , Barack Obama , Edwin Lacierda , Jose Cuisia Jr , Obama visit , President Obama , US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel , US military presence

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