From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 14): US, Australia eye more defense cooperation in Asia
US President Barack Obama said Thursday he envisioned a greater defense cooperation with Australia in a tension-filled Asia as he welcomed Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the Oval Office meeting despite differences on climate change.
“We don’t have a better friend in the world, as well as the Asia-Pacific region, than Australia,” Obama told reporters after the meeting.
In the conservative leader’s first White House summit since his election in September, Abbott said Australia “will be an utterly indispensable ally” of the United States and welcomed Obama’s efforts to shift more US attention on Asia.
ENFORCING ‘RULES’ IN ASIA
The US-Australia summit comes amid growing tensions in Asia, with Japan, the PH and Vietnam accusing China of increasingly assertive moves on maritime disputes.
Obama and Abbott said they embraced China’s rise but would hold firm on principles. Obama said it was important for a growing China to “abide by basic international law and norms.”
Abbott, speaking earlier at the US Chamber of Commerce, said that Australia sought close relations with countries throughout Asia, including frequent rivals Japan and China.
“It helps that, in most circumstances, Australia is strong enough to be useful but not big enough to be threatening,” Abbott said.
“I am confident that the coming century will indeed be the Asian century, but only if America is there too to keep the peace and enforce the rules,” Abbott said.
Obama praised Abbott for increasing Australia’s defense budget in tough economic times, calling the move a recognition that “we all have to make sure that we’re doing our fair share to help maintain global order and security.”
Obama agreed with Australia’s previous government to send some 2,500 US Marines by 2016-2017 to the northern city of Darwin, which lies strategically close to hotspots in Southeast Asia.
Obama said that the United States and Australia have since then worked out force postures “that will enhance the bilateral cooperation between our militaries and give us additional reach throughout this very important part of the world.”
A White House statement said that the United States and Australia were looking to expand cooperation in “maritime capacity building” and humanitarian relief in Asia.
TIT FOR TAT
Meanwhile, Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian urged China Thursday “to abide by the UNCLOS in the same manner they are urging Vietnam” to defuse tension in the South China sea.
China earlier this week took its dispute with Vietnam to the United Nations over its deployment of an oil rig in the Paracel islands which is also claimed by Vietnam.
In its “position paper” to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, China accused Vietnam of “illegally and forcefully” disturbing the drilling operations of state-run firm China National Offshore Oil Corp. in disputed maritime territory.
China also claimed Vietnam infringed China’s sovereignty as well as international laws, including the UNCLOS.
“China is now invoking the authority of UNCLOS by bringing its territorial conflict with Vietnam in the international arena. It should then answer the Philippines’ case instead of insisting to take the matter bilaterally. It just shows that China has no consistency when it comes to foreign policy. It cannot just opt for bilateral talks with one country and go multilateral with another,” Gatchalian, who co-chairs the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development said.
The Philippines submitted to UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration last March its nearly 4,000-page memorial, which seeks to have China’s extensive claim over the South China Sea nullified and maritime rights explained.
REPLY TO MEMORIAL
The said UN court has already directed China to submit by Dec. 15 a counter-memorial. But China stood firm in its decision not to take part in the case.
Gatchalian also warned that China’s aggression in the disputed waters will likely affect peace and economic growth in the region.
“China is threatening to shatter the peace in the region and damage the bullish growth of Asian countries, even those not directly involved with the territorial dispute.
Remember, West Philippine Sea is an important trade route and a rich source of marine resources and potentially, oil,” he said.
The Valenzuela lawmaker said ties with China will go a long, long way should they participate in the arbitration case over contested waters the Philippines the way they hailed Vietnam to the arbitral court.