US to deploy equipment to Philippines

Naval, air asset deployment comes amid Manila-Beijing territorial spat

THE United States is planning to deploy "various advanced air and naval equipment" to the Philippines in view of China's massive reclamation works in the South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has said.

In an interview yesterday with the ABS-CBN News channel, Mr del Rosario said US Defence Secretary Ash Carter has "outlined" this plan, "and we welcome this".

Mr del Rosario said he would fly to Washington in two weeks to meet Mr Carter and US State Secretary John Kerry to discuss the planned deployment.

Commenting on the US plan to deploy air and naval assets to the Philippines, defence consultant Jose Custodio said "these are practically useless".

He said he expects the US to deploy destroyers, littoral ships, submarines and surveillance aircraft "only for knowing what the Chinese are doing".

Meanwhile, Beijing yesterday dismissed as "groundless" President Benigno Aquino's warning on Tuesday that China's actions in the South China Sea "should engender fear for the rest of the world".

Mr Aquino told the Agence France-Presse news agency that China's reclamation of over 60ha of land in the Spratly islands in the South China Sea threatened access to international shipping lanes and fishing grounds there.

He also warned that, while he did not believe China intended to engage in a military conflict over its territorial disputes with the Philippines and other Asian nations, that was a possibility.

"The question of it escalating to something beyond everybody's control should be at the top of the minds of all world leaders," he said.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing yesterday: "The relevant accusations by the Philippines are groundless."

He said China's construction of bases in the Spratlys "does not impact or target any other countries or threaten the security of international shipping lanes and fishing activities".

Using the Chinese name for the Spratlys, Mr Hong said: "The Philippines' territory has never covered the Nansha islands."

Satellite images show that China has built artificial islands with provisions for at least two airstrips, harbours and buildings the size of large shopping malls in six reefs in the Spratlys, and that dredging is ongoing in one more rocky outcrop.

US President Barack Obama earlier expressed concern that China is using its "sheer size and muscle" to push smaller states around in the South China Sea.

Manila and Washington signed in April last year a 10-year defence agreement meant to give the US a significant military presence in the Philippines for the first time since it shut down its naval and air bases here in 1992.

The "enhanced defence cooperation agreement" gives the US access to more Philippine military bases. It also allows the US to "rotate" more troops, warships and planes for longer periods of time. A court challenge, however, has put that pact on hold.

rdancel@sph.com.sg