Philippines gets $162 million boost in military aid from the US amid South China Sea dispute

Philippine exercise director Vice-Admiral Alexander Lopez (left) and his US counterpart Lieutenant General John Toolan linking arms during the opening ceremony of the annual joint 11-day Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) military exercise in Manila on
Philippine exercise director Vice-Admiral Alexander Lopez (left) and his US counterpart Lieutenant General John Toolan linking arms during the opening ceremony of the annual joint 11-day Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) military exercise in Manila on April 4, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (Reuters) - The United States has allocated more than US$120 million (S$162 million) in military aid to the Philippines this year, the biggest in about 15 years, a senior Filipino diplomat said on Friday (April 8), amid rising tension with China over the disputed South China Sea.

Mr Jose Cuisia, Manila's ambassador to Washington, said Manila was also in talks with the United States to acquire a fourth Hamilton-class cutter to strengthen the Philippine capability to patrol the waters.

"We got the largest-ever allocation from the U.S. government this year to enhance defence and security of our country," he told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila.

Cuisia said Manila received US$79 million in annual military aid this year compared to about US$50 million in 2015.

He said Manila would get an additional US$42 million from the new US South-east Asia Maritime Initiative, a maritime capacity-building programme announced by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter, who is visiting Manila next week.

The two amounts represent the biggest amount of military aid since 2000 when the US military returned to its former colony after the American bases closed in 1992.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about US$5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

Beijing's more assertive pursuit of its claims over the past year or so has included land reclamation and the construction of air and port facilities on some isles and reefs.

The Philippines has sought international arbitration on the dispute and a decision is expected late this month or in early May.

China has declined to take part.