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The head of US forces in the Pacific on Monday reaffirmed the US' commitment to support the Philippines amid continuing maritime disputes between Manila and Beijing.
Admiral Samuel Locklear met Philippine President Benigno Aquino and voiced his support for modernizing the country's armed forces and establishing a minimum credible defense, said Aquino's spokesman, Ramon Carandang.
"This is a reaffirmation that the Mutual Defense Treaty is still in place and still strong. And it is an opportunity for us to find places and missions where we can partner and exercise together in a way that will increase our overall security cooperation and increase security in this critical part of the Asia-Pacific," the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Locklear as saying.
The Philippines, which has a mutual defense treaty with the United States, has been seeking greater support from its main defense ally after its standoff with China over Huangyan Island in the South China Sea in April.
The two officials discussed the South China Sea issue in "broad strokes" without giving specific details, Carandang told reporters.
By assisting allies such as the Philippines, Washington wants to maintain global leadership and the US-led alliance's credibility, said Li Haidong, director of the Center for International Security and Strategy Studies with China Foreign Affairs University.
The US' strong support for the Philippines has caused China and many Associate of Southeast Asian Nations countries to question Washington's "constructive" role in the Asia-Pacific region. But the US will not back Manila unconditionally, a scenario that would undermine regional stability and the US' positive ties with China, a major regional power, he said.
Citing the economic interest of countries in the region as the deciding factor, analysts said the Philippines' ASEAN peers may be unwilling to go out of their way to help the country in its territorial dispute with China, according to Philippine website Sun.Star.
"I don't think anybody will come out of their way to help us. I don't think they are in a position to do it," Philippine political analyst Ramon Casiple told Philstar.com.
Locklear was scheduled to meet Filipino defense officials later on Monday to discuss "domain awareness" amid a changing security climate, according to the US Department of Defense. "So what we are looking for is to try to provide (the Philippines) assistance that builds the interoperability of our defense forces over time," the department's website quoted him as saying.
Locklear also warned that a possible "miscalculation" in the dispute could threaten regional stability, and reiterated that the US and Philippine militaries need to learn to work together better.
"I'm looking forward to giving the message to the Filipino military and to the leaders there that the US is a very reliable ally. We want the Filipinos to be a reliable ally to us as well," he said.
Last week, during the ASEAN annual conference in Cambodia, Manila pressed Beijing to accept a code of conduct for resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. China said it is ready to discuss it when conditions are ripe, but insists on negotiating with its neighbors bilaterally.
During the ASEAN gathering, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "The United States has no territorial claims there, and we do not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries."
AFP contributed to this story.
(China Daily 07/17/2012 page12)