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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        15  June 2011

US backs Philippines on Spratlys

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The Philippines can count on the support of the United States on all matters, including issues with China over the disputed Spratly Islands, according to US Ambassador to Manila, Harry Thomas Jr.

In his speech during the launch of the National Renewable Energy Program on Tuesday, Thomas assured Washington’s full support for Manila’s goals of developing renewable energy and combating climate change.

“I want to assure you, in all subjects, we in the United States are with the Philippines,” the ambassador said during the launch, which was attended by President Benigno Aquino 3rd and hundreds of energy stakeholders led by the Department of Energy (DOE).

President Aquino, when asked to respond to Thomas’ statements later, said, “We are pleased by that (assurance), especially the reiteration that we are a strategic partner.”

He admitted that the country needed help from the United States in its increasingly tense dispute with China over rival claims to the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“Of course, they (China) are a superpower, they have more than 10 times our population. We do not want any hostilities to break out,” President Aquino told reporters when also asked about recent Chinese actions in the contested islands.

Apparently invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington, the President said, “Perhaps the presence of our treaty partner, the United States of America, ensures that all of us will have freedom of navigation (and) will conform (with) international law.”

In pledging support for the territorial claims of the Philippines, Thomas pointed out that that “the Philippines and the United States are strategic treaty allies.”

“We are partners. We will continue to consult and work with each other on all issues, including the South China Sea and Spratly Islands,” the ambassador said.

For decades, China and the Philippines, as well as Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have made overlapping seabed claims to parts or the whole of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The claims to the islands are especially important because if legal claims supporting a specific country’s ownership are recognized, that country’s exclusive economic zone could extend up to 200 nautical miles from the shore of each islet under its control, giving it sole jurisdiction over natural-resource extraction in that area.

Key natural resources in the disputed areas include oil and gas, as well as fish. The Spratlys also lie close to some of the world’s most vital commercial shipping lanes.


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