The agreement, which will have an initial 10-year term, was touted
as the highlight of Obama's first visit to the Philippines, the
United States' oldest ally in the region.
It sets the framework for a beefed-up rotation of U.S. troops, ships
and warplanes through the Philippines, part of a rebalancing of U.S.
resources towards fast-growing Asia and the Pacific.
But China interprets the move as an attempt to contain its
increasing military capability and embolden Manila in a decades-long
territorial dispute with Beijing.
"The goal for this agreement is to build Philippine capacity to
engage in training, engage in coordination, not simply to deal with
issues of maritime security, but also to enhance our capabilities so
that if there is a natural disaster that takes place we can respond
quickly," Obama told a joint news conference in Manila after talks
with President Benigno Aquino.
"Our goal is not to counter China, our goal is not to contain China.
Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are
respected, and that includes the area of maritime disputes."
He reiterated Washington's support for Manila's move to seek
international arbitration over conflicting territorial claims in the
South China Sea, an important shipping route that is believed to be
rich in energy resources.
The Philippines is the last stop on a week-long tour of Asia partly
aimed at reassuring U.S. allies that Washington remains committed to
its strategic "pivot" to the region.
Obama said all four countries he has visited, including Japan, which
has its own dispute with China over tiny islands in the East China
Sea, were committed to seeking a peaceful resolution of territorial
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, a claim that
overlaps with those of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam
China has rejected international arbitration, preferring a bilateral
route to solving the jurisdictional disputes.
Rising regional tensions were highlighted by a commentary from
China's state news agency Xinhua criticizing the pact.
"Given that the Philippines is at a bitter territorial row with
China, the move is particularly disturbing as it may embolden Manila
in dealing with Beijing," the commentary said.
"A more assertive or even reckless Manila would stoke regional
tensions and in turn upset Obama's policy of rebalancing."
Aquino said China "shouldn't be concerned" about the new agreement,
which is aimed at increasing joint military training, especially for
disaster relief operations.
The United States and the Philippines will hold joint exercises next
week in areas mostly north of the capital.
"We are not a threat militarily to any country, we don't even have
... presently a single fighter aircraft in our inventory," Aquino
said, adding his country had "legitimate needs" to protect its
36,000 km (22,370 miles) coastline.
[to top of second column]
NO NEW BASES
The United States was not seeking to rebuild old military bases or
construct new ones under the agreement, said Obama, who was greeted
with a 21-gun salute upon his arrival at the presidential palace in
the former U.S. colony.
Dozens of anti-U.S. protesters shouted slogans and waved banners to
protest against his visit outside the palace.
The United States had maintained two military bases northwest of
Manila, including Subic Bay, which was once its biggest overseas
naval base, until the Philippine Senate ordered U.S. troops to leave
Eight years later, the Senate approved an agreement providing for
temporary visits by U.S. forces, allowing the staging of joint
Officials said the new security accord did not specify the number of
U.S. troops and equipment to be deployed in the country, with those
details to be discussed separately by the two governments.
"They can do construction and upgrade of infrastructure, they can
store or preposition defense equipment, supplies and material, as
well as hard equipment and supplies," said Lourdes Yparraguirre,
Philippine ambassador to Austria and a member of the negotiating
panel that worked on the deal for eight months.
"China was never discussed in the negotiations," she told reporters
on the sidelines of a signing ceremony hours before Obama's arrival.
"We don't aim to contain or confront anyone. I hope that our
neighbors in the region would also view this agreement as a positive
contribution to peace, stability, security and prosperity in the
While some analysts believe the new military agreement with
Washington raises Manila's military capabilities, others think it
will create more problems for the country.
"Relations with China...will deteriorate further in the context of
maritime disputes. China is averse to any Philippine government
initiative to involve the U.S. in its security agenda," said Rommel
Banlaoi, analyst at the Center for Intelligence and National
Security in Manila.
"We are strengthening our relationship with the U.S. at the expense
of our relationship with China," he said.
(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato and Matt Spetalnick;
by Rosemarie Francisco; editing by Alex Richardson)
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