By Manuel Mogato
MANILA Dec 12 U.S. and Philippine officials
agreed on Wednesday on an increase in the number of U.S.
military ships, aircraft and troops rotating through the
Philippines, Filipino officials said, as tension simmers with
China over its maritime claims.
Though he made no direct reference to the territorial
disputes, new Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping urged his
military to prepare for a struggle. He made the comments during
his visit to a South China Sea fleet ship in southern Guangdong
province, but did not name any potential aggressor.
Senior U.S. and Philippine officials met on Wednesday in
Manila to discuss strengthening security and economic ties at a
time of growing tension over China's aggressive sovereignty
claims over vast stretches of the disputed South China Sea.
Philippine defence and diplomatic officials said they
expected to see more U.S. ships, aircraft and troops for
training exercises and disaster and relief operations.
"What we are discussing right now is increasing the
rotational presence of U.S. forces," Carlos Sorreta, the foreign
ministry's Assistant Secretary for American Affairs, told
reporters. A five-year joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise
plan would be approved this week, he added.
The size of the increase in the U.S. military assets in the
Philippines, a former U.S. colony, was unclear.
Pio Lorenzo Batino, Philippine deputy defence minister, said
there were "substantial discussions" on a possible new framework
allowing Washington to put equipment in the Southeast Asian
"There has been no discussion yet on specifics ... (these
are) policy consultations and the specifics would be determined
by the technical working groups," he told a news conference,
saying the new framework was discussed in the context of
increasing rotational presence.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the two
allies' relationship was "in a renaissance".
The discussions come as the Philippines, Australia and other
parts of the region have seen a resurgence of U.S. warships,
planes and personnel under Washington's so-called "pivot" in
foreign, economic and security policy towards Asia announced
Wary of Washington's intentions, China is building up its
own military. Its claims over most of the South China Sea have
set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines,
while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the
Xi, who assumed the role of military chief about a month
ago, called on the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army
to "push forward preparations for a military struggle", state
news agency Xinhua said.
Xi, speaking during a three-day inspection of the PLA's
Guangzhou base starting last Saturday, did not say against whom
the struggle might be fought.
His remarks echo those he made a week ago and are a common
refrain by Chinese leaders. Xi replaced President Hu Jintao as
chairman of the Central Military Commission on Nov. 15.
Xi also said the army should "modernise" for combat
readiness, but gave no specific details.
U.S. and Philippine officials say there is no plan to revive
permanent U.S. military bases in the Philippines - the last ones
were closed in 1992 - and that the increased presence would help
provide relief during disasters such as a typhoon last week that
killed more than 700 people.
"The increase rotation presence is in areas where we have
been traditionally exercising," said Sorreta. "There are other
areas for example where we have been experiencing more
disasters. So we might be expanding exercises there."
One U.S. official said Washington was not ready to wade
directly into the territorial dispute in the South China Sea and
instead would focus on strengthening security ties with
long-standing allies such as the Philippines.
"I don't think you'll see any real movement on the South
China Sea," the U.S. official said.
"I'm sure it will come up, but we aren't trying to step in
and 'solve' that issue. We really want the solution to be done
by the claimants themselves and are hoping the Code of Conduct
discussions move forward," said the official, referring to a
Code of Conduct aimed at easing the risk of naval flashpoints.
Sorreta told Reuters the Philippines also favoured an
increased deployment of U.S. aircraft and ships "so we can make
use of them when the need arises", citing last week's typhoon.
He said they would also welcome more U.S. humanitarian supplies.