DIPLOMACY

Obama signs new security deal with Philippines, backs Manila's arbitration bid

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 11:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 5:11pm

Watch: Obama seeks to soothe China while boosting ties with Philippines

A long-negotiated security co-operation agreement was signed yesterday to allow a greater US military presence in the Philippines as Barack Obama said he supported Manila's push for international arbitration to resolve maritime territorial disputes with China.

The US president also reiterated a message that he has raised in every country on his four-nation Asian tour - his rebalancing strategy is not about countering China's rise.

"We welcome China's peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China. There is enormous trade, enormous business that's done between the United States and China," Obama said alongside Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

The Enhanced Defence Co-operation Agreement is a 10-year accord that allows US military forces greater access to rotate through Philippine bases. The accord, although renewable, does not allow US military personnel to be stationed permanently in the country and American forces could only visit at Manila's invitation.

As tensions continue to boil over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, many analysts see the agreement as a form of US military backing to deter what Manila sees as China's coercion and intimidation in the area.

Xinhua said in a commentary yesterday that the move could embolden Manila in its dealings with Beijing.

"A more assertive or even reckless Manila would stoke regional tensions and in turn upset Obama's policy of rebalancing," Xinhua said.

Obama said the agreement would build up the Philippines' military capability to deal with maritime security and provide opportunities for the US to work with other regional countries.

"My hope is at some point we are going to be able to work co-operatively with China as well, because our goal here is simply to make sure everybody is operating in a peaceful, responsible fashion," Obama said.

Aquino and Obama reiterated the importance of resolving the territorial disputes peacefully, with the US president telling his counterpart that the US supported his decision to seek international arbitration on the issue.