Aquino: China has nothing to worry about access pact

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Monday, April 28, 2014

AN INCREASINGLY assertive China has nothing to worry about the agreement giving United States soldiers more access to Philippine military bases, President Benigno Aquino III said Monday.

At a joint press briefing with US President Barack Obama in Malacañang, Aquino said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will help the Philippines strengthen its defense mechanism and effectively respond to calamities.

Aquino conceded that the Philippines has one of the weakest military forces in Asia, noting that the country has no single fighter aircraft in its inventory.

"We have legitimate needs. We have a 36,000-kilometer coastline. We do have concerns about poaching in our waters and preserving the environment and protecting endangered species. I think no country should begrudge us of our right to be able to attend to our concerns and our needs," he said.

China, the world's second biggest economy after the US, has been claiming ownership of the major international passageway through the so-called nine-dash line, a U-shaped map that covers nearly 90 percent of the waters and overlaps with the sovereign territories of its Southeast Asian neighbors including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Manila brought the dispute to arbitration before the United Nations, angering Beijing which is pushing for bilateral talks to end the impasse.

US, the Philippines' biggest ally, has refused to take sides as Obama maintained that it wants to be a partner in upholding international law and avoiding military confrontation. Obama even called Aquino's decision to pursue the legal track as a "sound one."

"Our goal is not to counter or contain China. Our goal is to make sure that the international rules and norms are respected," the American president said.

Both leaders underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Declaration of Conduct and the speedy conclusion of a "substantive and legally binding" Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Obama pointed out that the EDCA will not set the stage for the return of US military bases, which the Senate kicked out in 1991.

Apart from the defense agreement, Aquino and Obama discussed cooperation in building climate-resilient communities as a result of typhoon Yolanda last November, stimulating economic growth and keeping the peace, especially in resource-rich Mindanao.

They also exchanged notes about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreements among Asian Pacific economies representing 40 percent of world trade.

The US continues to be the major trading partner of the Philippines, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) said, with total trade amounting to $14.5 billion in 2013.

Last year, the US was the second largest export destination of the Philippines after Japan, with exports reaching $7.8 billion.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan highlighted the US' significant role in the Asian region, which he said will remain strong in the years to come.

"For us here in the Philippines, geopolitical stability is a key driver of growth. We need stability in the years to come for us to be able join the rank of more advanced economies. That’s why we need good relationships and partnerships with other governments. The US sending the signal that it is here in Asia for the long haul will help bring that stability," said Balisacan.

Aquino hoped that Manila's future relationship with Washington is "modern, mature, and forward-looking, and one that allows us to surpass challenges, towards the benefit of our peoples, the entire region, and the world." (Sunnex)

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