HOURS after the US signed an agreement to bring more American troops to the Philippines, US President Barack Obama said Washington’s goal was not to contain China amid a festering territorial dispute over the West Philippine Sea.
“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China,” Obama said in a joint press conference with President Benigno Aquino III after the two leaders met in Malacañang.
Obama said the US goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected in maritime disputes.
“We do not have claims in this area territorially. We are an Asia Pacific nation and our primary interest is the peaceful resolution of conflict, freedom of navigation that allows for continued progress and prosperity,” said Obama who arrived in the country on Monday for a two-day visit.
He noted that the United States does not take a specific position on the disputes between nations.
But, as a matter of international law and international norms, coercion and intimidation are the way to manage these disputes, the US president said.
For that reason, Obama said, he supports the Philippine approach to seek international arbitration to resolve the dispute in a diplomatic fashion.
“We don’t go around sending ships and threatening folks. What we do is we sit down and we have some people in the room. It’s boring, it’s not exciting but it’s usually a good way to work out these problems and work out these issues,” said the world’s most powerful man.
“I do think that as President Aquino said very persuasively that China as a large country has already asserted that it is interested in abiding by international law. And really our message to China consistently in a whole range of issues is we want be a partner with you in upholding international law. In fact, larger countries have a greater responsibility in abiding by international norms and rules
because when we move, it can worry smaller countries if we don’t do it in a way that’s consistent with international law,” he said.
He said leaders of the other Asian countries he visited like Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia want to resolve these issues peacefully and diplomatically.
“That’s why I think that the approach that President Aquino has been taking --- putting this before international arbitration is a sound one,” Obama said.
Obama added that he believes that if China listens to its neighbors and recognizes that there is another approach to resolve these disputes, it will find that they have ready and willing partners throughout the Asia Pacific region that want to work with them on trade and commerce and selling goods and buying goods.
“And it’s inevitable that China is going to be a dominant power in this region just by sure size. Nobody, I think, denies that,” said the US President.
“The question is just whether other countries in the region are also able to succeed and prosper on their own terms and attend to the various interests and needs that they and their people have as well. And that’s what we support,” said Obama.
Aquino said that from the very onset, the country’s message to China is to achieve greater prosperity for the people of both nations. But for this to happen, there must be stability, he said.
“They [the Chinese] in return have responded that the disputes in the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea, are not the end-all and be-all of our relationships. And we have had good cooperation with them in so many different fronts and perhaps one can’t even argue that this is the only sour point in our relationship,” Aquino said.
Aquino said it was more important for the Philippines and China to bring prosperity to their people than to quarrel over “a few rocks” that are uninhabitable.
In time, he added, China might see the soundness of this proposition and act in a way that strengthened stability in the region.
“That is our hope,” Aquino said.
Obama said the goal of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by the US and the Philippines was wide-ranging.
“We’ve had decades of alliance with the Philippines but, obviously, in the 21st century we have to continue to update that. And the goal for this agreement is to build Philippine capacity, to engage in training, engage in coordination—not simply to deal with issues of maritime security, but also to enhance our capabilities so that if there’s a natural disaster that takes place, we are able to potentially respond more quickly,” he said.
If new threats arise, Obama added, both countries would be able to work “in a cooperative fashion.”
“I think this is going to be a terrific opportunity for us to work with the Philippines to make sure that our navies, our air force are coordinated; to make sure that there is information-sharing; to allow us to respond to new threats and to work with other countries—ASEAN countries, Australia, Japan,” he said.
Obama said he hoped that at some point, the US would be able to work cooperatively with China as well, because the goal is to make sure that everyone operates in a peaceful, responsible way.
“When that happens, that allows countries to focus on what is more important to people day-to-day and that is prosperity, growth, jobs. Those are the things that we as leaders should be focused on.... And if we have security arrangements that avoid conflict and dispute, then we’re able to place our attention on where we should be focusing.,” he said.
Obama said he has been consistent through his travels in Asia.
“We welcome China’s peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China. There is enormous trade, enormous business that is done between the United States and China, a whole range of issues on the international stage in which cooperation between the United States and China are balanced,” he said.
He reiterated that US has been consistent, too, in its message that maritime disputes should be resolved peacefully at an arbitral tribunal.
“Obeying international law, not intimidation, is the way to settle the dispute,” said Obama, as he emphasized that the agreement signed Monday was not aimed at re-establishing American bases in the Philippines.
He said the EDCA will only rotate US troops in Philippine facilities so they can train and work together to build the defense capability of both countries.
Aquino added that the agreement would take the security cooperation between the two countries to a higher level and reaffirm their commitment to mutual defense and security to promote regional peace and stability.
Aquino also said that arbitration was “an open, friendly, and peaceful approach to seeking a just and durable solution.”
Both leaders also cited the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Declaration of Conduct and the expeditious conclusion of a substantive and legally binding Code of Conduct in the
South China Sea to foster peace and stability in Asia.
Aquino said his meeting with Obama was comprehensive and significant.
“It accorded President Obama and myself the opportunity to build on the relations between our countries, and discuss our strategic vision for the future of the Philippines-United States relationship—a relationship that 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,” he said.
Obama arrived onboard Air Force One at 1:30 p.m. Monday from Kuala Lumpur.
On hand to greet the US President were Vice President Jejomar Binay, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Roxas, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia and Maj. Gen Jeffrey Delgado, Air Force chief.
Manila is the last leg on Obama’s four-nation tour of Asia.
Amid tight security, Obama boarded the Marine One helicopter and proceeded to Malacanang to attend the official welcome ceremony.
After the ceremony, the President invited Obama to enter the Palace for the signing of the guest book at the reception hall before proceeding to the Music Room for the “meet-and-greet” before their expanded meeting.
Obama wrote on the guestbook a thank you note to the Philippines for welcoming him on the start of his two-day state-visit on Monday, calling the country America’s “oldest alliance in Asia.”
In the note posted in the official Twitter and Facebook accounts of Aquino, the US President wrote: “I thank President Aquino and the people of the Philippines for welcoming me.”
“May America’s oldest alliance in Asia always be renewed by our friendship and mutual respect,” the note read, with Obama’s signature affixed below.
A state dinner hosted by the President was the last activity on Obama’s first day in the Philippines. – With Eric B. Apolonio
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.