Filipinos asked: Who do you want on your side?
“Who do you want to be with?”
This is the question former US Pacific Command chief, retired Admiral Samuel Locklear, would put to critics of the emerging partnership between the Philippines and United States amid the changing security situation in the Asia-Pacific region.
Some Filipinos have criticized the unfolding alliance, saying the Philippines was being dragged into the US-China rivalry.
“I would say to those critics who say we are just using the Philippines, well, the Philippines is a part of a larger set of problems that have to be dealt with, you can’t isolate yourself… The fact that you sit in the most strategic part of Southeast Asia in a huge set of archipelago where 70 percent of the global economy is going to be generated… The question is: how do you want to be here and who do you want to be with while you are here?” Locklear said in an interview.
The retired admiral was in Manila for the soft launch of a report on the US-Philippine alliance by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
With Locklear were Chris Johnson, a former China station chief of the US Central Intelligence Agency, and CSIS senior fellow Murray Hiebert.
Johnson noted that China had also accused the Philippines of dragging the US into its maritime dispute with Beijing.
“It’s all a matter of perspective,” he said.
The CSIS report, titled “Building a More Robust US-PH Relations,” focused on security and politics, trade and investments, and enhancing people-to-people ties. It was written by Hiebert, Gregory Poling and Phuong Nguyen.
The report recommended that the United States and the Philippines conduct joint patrols in the South China Sea “to assert the freedom of navigation in certain disputed waters.”
“For instance, the two should jointly send ships in transit within 12 nautical miles of low-tide elevations that have been turned into artificial islands by China, such as Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, and other claimants, such as the Vietnamese-occupied Discovery Great Reef,” the report’s authors wrote.
Aside from the United States, the Philippines should also have joint patrols with “Japan, Australia and other like-minded states to assert that the rule of law in the South China Sea is of concern to all nations and is not a bilateral US-China issue,” the report said.
The report also stressed that the Philippine-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), which is being questioned in the Supreme Court on constitutionality issues, would allow the Philippine military access to US ships and planes.
“This would have a sizable impact on the frequency and quality of US-Philippine training and other joint activities. It would also help boost the capacity for trilateral cooperation with other partners like Australia and, potentially, Japan,” it said.
The CSIS emphasized that under the Edca, the US military would be investing in improvements in the infrastructure of Philippine military bases.
“US-funded upgrades to the base’s naval and air infrastructure and use of those facilities for US naval and air patrols and intelligence gathering would have a substantial impact on the Philippines’ ability to monitor and react to developments in the South China Sea,” the report said.
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