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US drastically expanding military presence in the Philippines

Published time: December 18, 2012 20:46
Edited time: December 19, 2012 00:46
US army soldiers take part in a joint Philippines-US military exercise at the military camp of Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija on April 21, 2012. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

US army soldiers take part in a joint Philippines-US military exercise at the military camp of Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija on April 21, 2012. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

The US will significantly increase its military presence in the Philippines – an announcement that has angered China, whose Communist Party chief urged his military to prepare for a struggle and whose state-run media have criticized the agreement.

The US announced in 2011 that it would increase joint training exercises and ship visits to the Philippines in order to counter China’s growing influence in the region. These visits have been welcomed by Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III.

This month, the US announced that it would increase the number of troops, aircraft and ships that rotate through the Philippines. The announcement was made during the 3rd Phillipines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila, which was held Dec. 11-12. The two countries are expected to sign a five-year joint US-Philippine military exercise plan in their upcoming meetings, The Diplomat reported.

“There has been no discussion yet on specifics [of in-country military equipment] … (these are) policy consultations and the specifics would be determined by the technical working groups,” Lorenzo Batino, the Philippines deputy defense minister said at the annual dialogue.

The US presence would likely guard against Chinese influence and try to contain the Communist country’s rising military and economic power. China has territorial claims across the South China Sea and dominates relations with members of the Associations of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the Philippines, with which it has overlapping claims of the Spratly islands. For years, the US has helped build the Philippine’s military and security forces and offered financial assistance in exchange for greater American presence in the country.

The US came under scrutiny in July after Human Rights Watch found that President Aquino’s regime was using torture methods, conducting extra-judicial killings and making “leftist activists, journalists and clergy” disappear. The US has given almost $700 million to this regime since President Barack Obama took office.

But the US presence in the Philippines is so important to the Obama administration that the Philippines will likely receive even more financial assistance, alongside the increase in military assistance, according to AntiWar reporter John Glaser. The US will not, however, admit that its main intention is to maintain its hegemony in the region.

The US announced that its military support would be of assistance to the Philippines after natural disasters, which occur often in the western Pacific country. Trying to address Chinese concerns, the US emphasized the humanitarian nature of its military presence, citing the recent Typhoon Bopha, which killed more than 900 Philippines last week.

But the Chinese response has not been positive. After the announcement was made, Chinese media described the Philippines as troublemakers seeking conflict. Using offensive language, the state-run media sources denounced the US-Philippines agreement and referred to the Phillipines Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario as ‘pathetic’.

Chinese Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping urged his military to prepare for a struggle, without mentioning the potential aggressor.

“Push forward preparations for a military struggle,” he told the People’s Liberation Army, which consists of 2.3 million servicemen.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have been on the rise for a while. In October, 2,600 American Marines and 1,200 marines from the Philippines jointly began 10 days of exercises focused on disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and maritime security. The exercises irritated China and the Communist Party of the Philippines, who claimed that the purpose of the US presence was to prepare for foreign intervention.

"In collaboration with the Aquino government, the US has been using the Philippines as one of its military outposts in launching interventionist operations," the Communist Party of the Philippines announced.

With a greater number of ships, aircraft, and troops, the US will now have an greater establishment in southeast Asia.