Obama ignites China anger on warning vs use of force

Source: The Daily Tribune 

US-China-flagsUS President Barack Obama ended an Asian tour Tuesday with a warning to China against using force to resolve territorial disputes, and an “ironclad” promise of military support for the Philippines.

Obama used an address to US and Filipino troops in Manila to again voice concern over the increasingly tense maritime rows between China and US allies in the region, an issue that has dominated his four-nation trip.

“We believe that nations and peoples have the right to live in security and peace, to have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected,” Obama said.

“We believe that international law must be upheld, that freedom of navigation must be preserved and commerce must not be impeded. We believe that disputes must be resolved peacefully and not by intimidation or force.”

In Beijing, a major Chinese newspaper hit out at Obama on Tuesday after the US president said Washington was not seeking to counter Beijing’s influence in the Asia-Pacific.

The state-run China Daily wrote in an editorial that Obama’s week-long visit to Asia, which concluded Tuesday, made it “increasingly obvious that Washington is taking Beijing as an opponent.”

China’s claims to various islands, reefs and atolls in the South and East China Seas have been a constant theme of Obama’s tour of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The trip has seen a US-Japan joint statement and a new US-Philippines defense agreement, and the paper wrote that while “from Tokyo to Manila, Obama has tried to pick his words so as not to antagonize Beijing”, his journey was “essentially about Washington’s and its allies’ unease about a rising China”.

At a joint news conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Monday, Obama said that while Washington did not take a position on the sovereignty of disputed territories, such issues must be addressed peacefully, not with “intimidation or coercion”.

He also said that Washington has “a constructive relationship with China” and has no desire to contain or counter Beijing.

But the China Daily blasted those words as “hollow” rhetoric, warning that Obama’s “sweet promises of a new type of major-country relationship should not blind us to the grim political reality”.

“Ganging up with its troublemaking allies, the US is presenting itself as a security threat to China,” the paper wrote.

Shortly before Obama’s arrival in the Philippines on Monday, Washington and Manila signed a new defense pact that will insert US forces close to the volatile South China Sea.

Days earlier, the US and Japan issued a joint statement explicitly stating that islands at the center of a dispute with China are covered by the security alliance that obliges Washington to come to Tokyo’s aid if attacked.

Beijing responded with fury to both moves, and the China Daily maintained Tuesday that the “foremost threat” was not China’s maritime disputes with Japan and the Philippines but rather “the threatening image of China” that the US and its allies were projecting.

The Philippines has been embroiled in one of the highest-profile territorial disputes with China, over tiny islets, reefs and rocks in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas, even waters and formations close to its neighbors.

The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has repeatedly called on longtime ally the United States for help as China has increased military and diplomatic pressure to take control of the contested areas.

The Philippines and the United States signed an agreement on Monday that will allow a greater US military presence on Filipino bases.

And Obama sought on Tuesday to reassure the Philippines that the United States would back its ally in the event of being attacked, citing a 1951 mutual defense treaty between the two nations.

“This treaty means our two nations pledge, and I am quoting, ‘our common determination to defend themselves from external armed attacks’,” Obama said.

“And no potential aggressor can be under the illusion that either of them stands alone. In other words, our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad. The United States will keep that commitment because allies will never stand alone.”

Nevertheless, Obama did not specifically mention coming to the aid of the Philippines if there was a conflict over the contested South China Sea areas, as his hosts had hoped.

On the first leg of his Asian tour in Tokyo, Obama had made such a pledge of support to Japan, which is locked in another dispute with China over rival claims to islands in the East China Sea.

Obama’s nuanced position on the Philippines was part of a tight-rope act he had tried to perform during his trip — reassuring allies wary about China’s perceived increased hostility while not antagonising the leadership in Beijing.

While offering pledges of protection to Japan and the Philippines, Obama also insisted the United States was not seeking to counter or contain China.

However, reflecting the difficulties of Obama’s balancing act, there were also complaints in the Philippines that he had not offered explicit support in the event of a conflict over the contested South China Sea areas.
And after Obama made his speech on Tuesday, Aquino ally Sen. Antonio Trillanes said the Philippine leadership was now fully aware that US troops would not join Filipino troops in a potential conflict with China over the South China Sea.

“So at least it’s very clear that there are no false expectations and we just have to deal with that by ourselves,” Trillanes said.

Meanwhile, three Chinese coastguard ships sailed into waters around the islands in the East China Sea disputed between China and Japan, the Japanese coastguard said.

It said the vessels entered 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) into Japan’s territorial waters off one of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus.

It was the second such move since Obama announced last week that Washington would defend Japan if China initiates an attack in the contested area. With Paul Atienza, Mario J. Mallari and AFP


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