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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Philippines Welcomes US Help to Contain China

- Philippines Welcomes US Help to Contain China

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Dow Jones Newswires

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday his country needed help from longtime ally the United States in its increasingly tense dispute with China over rival claims in the South China Sea.

Aquino accused China of breaking international law by sending vessels into waters claimed by the Philippines and close to its landmass, while portraying his country as weak compared with its militarily superior Asian neighbor.

"Of course they (China) are a superpower, they have more than 10 times our population. We do not want any hostilities to break out," Aquino told reporters when asked about recent Chinese actions in the disputed area.

"Perhaps the presence of our treaty partners, the United States of America, ensures that all of us will have freedom of navigation (and) will conform to international law."

The U.S. and the Philippines are bound by a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that calls on both parties to come to one another's aid if either were to be attacked by an external party.

Aquino's comments came after the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas, Tuesday said the U.S. remained committed to helping its former colony in any dispute over the South China Sea.

Thomas emphasized at a public forum in Manila that the Philippines and the U.S. were "longstanding treaty allies" and "strategic partners".

"We will continue to consult each other closely on all issues, including the South China Sea and Spratly Islands," Thomas said.

Aquino welcomed Thomas's comments, which are likely to irk China as it has long insisted that the U.S. has no role to play in resolving its territorial disputes with Asian countries.

"We are pleased by that, especially the reiteration that we are a strategic partner," Aquino said when asked to respond to Thomas's comments.

Aquino's remarks continued an escalation in tensions between China, the Philippines and other rival claimants to the strategically vital and resource-rich South China Sea over recent months.

The Philippines and Vietnam, in particular, have expressed alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed waters.

The Philippines has accused China of putting up posts and a buoy in Philippines-claimed areas of the Spratlys, an archipelago of more than 100 islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

It also accused China of sending naval vessels to intimidate Filipino fishermen and the crew of an oil exploration ship near an atoll called Reed Bank.

Aquino on Tuesday specifically highlighted recent "incidents" at Reed Bank, pointing out it was well within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles.

He said the Reed Bank was just 80 miles from the nearest major Philippine landmass, but 576 miles from Chinese territory.

"Five-hundred-and-seventy-six miles is obviously greater than 200 miles, so why is there suddenly a dispute if we are all conforming to international law," he said.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country's exclusive economic zone extends to 200 miles from its continental shelf.

In response to earlier complaints from the Philippines, China has denied taking any aggressive actions and insisted it remained committed to resolving territorial disputes with its neighbors peacefully.

Aside from China, the Philippines and Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have overlapping claims to sections of the South China Sea.

The area is believed to hold major oil and gas deposits, and has commercial shipping lanes that are vital for global trade.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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