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US seeks deeper sea defense ties with Philippines

THE UNITED States wants to enhance joint maritime defense activities with the Philippines to keep the waters “safe,” the US Embassy in Manila said on Monday.

“Whatever we can do, military to military or people to people, that ensures that we secure our territorial integrity and that we make our waters safe is what we’re going to do,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay L. Carlson told a news briefing on Monday.

“We’re looking at various types of joint, cooperative maritime activities that we can do together,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a joint patrol per se, but whatever makes sense.”

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

Ms. Carlson said close coordination between US and Philippine military leaders would ensure the security expected and demanded by the people.

“What we all want are safe waters for fisherfolk, safe waters for sea lanes of transportation through which two-thirds of the region’s commerce flows,” she said

“We want to make sure also that the international skies — overflight — are secured so that economic recovery is not constrained, so that our people can live in safety and security,” she added.

The US has made it a goal to compete with China, which it called the “only competitor with both the intent and increasingly, the capability to reshape the international order,” according to a fact sheet from the US Embassy.

China has rejected a 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague upheld the Philippines’ rights to its exclusive economic zone within the disputed waterway. It rejected China’s claim to most of the sea based on a 1940s nine-dash line map. 

“The level, intensity and complexity of our military exercises is a very important demonstration of how we are continuing to amplify and deepen the relationship, and to meet the challenges to ensure that we have a secure environment for our peoples, for our nations, and for the Indo-Pacific,” Ms. Carlson said.

“When the US and the Philippines are working closely together, that helps provide that foundation that is so important for our overall security,” she added.

She said the US has provided a military grant of $100 million to the Philippines for its defense modernization plan. The Philippines’ 15-year military modernization program will continue until 2027 and is estimated to cost more than $40 billion.

Ms. Carlson said this could offset a Philippine government decision to scrap a P12.7-billion deal to buy 16 Russian military transport helicopters after the latter invaded Ukraine.

The Philippines is looking to buy heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the US. Washington has said it was willing to strike a deal for the amount Manila was set to spend on Russian helicopters, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel G. Romualdez earlier said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

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