External Affairs

China Says Enhanced US-Philippine Military Ties Invoke ‘Cold War Mentality’

The comments from China came after the US announced that it would ramp up its military presence in the Philippines, and that the two countries had started joint patrols in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

US military forces aboard Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) manuevre on South China Sea near the shore of San Antonio, Zambales during the annual "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games with Filipino soldiers in northern Philippines April 21, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro

US military forces aboard Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) manuevre on South China Sea near the shore of San Antonio, Zambales during the annual “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games with Filipino soldiers in northern Philippines April 21, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Shanghai: Plans to deepen US-Philippine military ties, including joint patrols in the South China Sea, reflect a “Cold War mentality”, China‘s defence ministry said, pledging to resolutely oppose any infringement on the country’s sovereignty.

The comments, published on the defence ministry’s website late on April 14, come after the US said it would ramp up its military presence in the Philippines and announced that the two countries had started the joint patrols in the disputed waters.

“A strengthening of the US-Philippine military alliance… is a manifestation of the Cold War mentality and is not conducive to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the defence ministry said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

Countries across the region have expressed concern over China‘s growing assertiveness in the region, which has intensified with a rapid buildup of man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago, to which Philippines and Vietnam lay claim.

The Philippines has disputed China’s claims in a case it has brought before an international arbitration court. China does not recognise the case.

Joint US-Philippine naval patrols “promote the militarisation of the region”, the Chinese defence ministry said, urging that the bilateral military cooperation avoid prejudicing the interests of third parties.

“The Chinese army will monitor this trend closely, and will resolutely safeguard China‘s territorial sovereignty as well as maritime rights and interests,” it said.

Visiting the Philippines, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on April 14 the broader American military presence was not meant to provoke conflict with the Chinese.

He added that US troops and military equipment would be sent on regular rotations in the Philippines and that the two countries had started joint patrols in the South China Sea as China increasingly asserts its territorial claims.

The initiatives are designed so that the US does not increase its permanent footprint in its former colony, but they demonstrate that the two countries are increasing security cooperation amid joint concerns over China’s actions in the region’s disputed waterways.

A contingent of US military aircraft and 200 US airmen from US Pacific Air Forces would be at Clark Air Base, a former US Air Force base, through the end of the month, Carter said.

The aircraft in the initial contingent include five A-10C Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft, three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, and a MC-130H special operations aircraft.

In addition, up to 75 US troops, mostly Marines, would remain in the Philippines “on a rotational basis” after the conclusion of joint “Balikatan” US-Philippines military exercises this week. The troops would support “increased operations in the region”, the Pentagon said.

The announcement of new rotations comes just weeks after the two countries reached a separate security deal that allows a rotating US military presence at five bases in the Philippines.

The Philippines is one of the oldest US allies in Asia, and hosted permanent US military bases until 1992. But the country’s Senate voted to evict the United States in 1991, and the two countries’ military cooperation dwindled.

The left-wing Bayan (Nation), an umbrella group of Philippine nationalist and anti-US organisations, dismissed the earlier deal, called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, as a move by the US military to create a permanent presence in the Philippines as a platform from which it could dominate the region.

“Our dispute with China can never be used as a reason to allow another country to violate our sovereignty,” its secretary-general, Renato Reyes, said in a statement.

“It cannot be used to justify the return of US bases under a questionable and open-ended agreement.”

(Reuters)