Lorenzana says he disagrees with China view of US overtures as sowing chaos
CLARK FREEPORT—Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed disagreement with China’s accusation that the United States has been trying to sow chaos in the Southeast Asian region, which followed the visit to Manila of ranking US defense officials.
“That is the opinion of the Chinese,” Lorenzana said. “The way I see it, they don’t want any foreign power to interfere in Southeast Asia,” he told reporters, speaking in Filipino, after the commissioning of six brand new Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters here.
The Philippines, Lorenzana said, was a longtime ally of the US and both countries are bound to this alliance by the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian said the visits of ranking security officials of the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump to Southeast Asia was “not to promote regional peace and stability but to create chaos and confrontation in the region.”
Huang said Washington “has breached its longstanding commitment of not taking sides, and blatantly interfered in territorial disputes” and sought “to drive a wedge between China and ASEAN countries.”
But Lorenzana said he did not see it that way. “That is their opinion,” he said. “We don’t see it that way,” he added. The Americans, Lorenzana said, “are here to maintain their relationship with the Philippines.”
Manila and Washington share concerns over China’s aggression in the South China Sea.
The US regularly conducts freedom of navigation operations to challenge China’s claim of ownership of nearly the entire South China Sea, including Philippine territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims over the strategic waterway.
While Trump is his on his final days in office, three of his security officials have visited Southeast Asia, including Manila. Acting US Defense Secretary Christopher Miller was in the Philippines early this week.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and US Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett also made a stop in Manila in the past weeks. The three officials brought gifts in tow, carrying almost P3 billion in weapons and defense equipment.
With P33 billion worth of ships, planes, small arms and other military equipment donated to the Philippines since 2015, the Philippines is the largest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region.
Lorenzana said he saw nothing unusual with the recent donations. “These are the equipment that maybe in their pipeline already,” he said in Filipino. “They wanted to give it before the end of the Trump administration so there is nothing unusual there,” he added.
“The assurance that was given to us is whoever is President, whoever is the administration and whatever party, their policy here in Asia remains the same,” Lorenzana said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.