U.S. military to boost Philippines presence; China tells army to be prepared

Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:06am EST
 
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By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - U.S. and Philippine officials are expected to agree on an increase in the number of U.S. military ships, aircraft and troops rotating through the Philippines, Filipino officials said, as tensions simmer with China over its maritime claims.

Though he made no direct reference to the territorial disputes, new Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping urged his military to prepare for a struggle. He made the comments during his visit to a South China Sea fleet ship in southern Guangdong province, but did not name any potential aggressor.

Senior U.S. and Philippine officials met on Wednesday in Manila to discuss strengthening security and economic ties at a time of growing tension over China's aggressive sovereignty claims over vast stretches of the disputed South China Sea.

Philippine defense and diplomatic officials said they expected to see more U.S. ships, aircraft and troops for training exercises and disaster and relief operations.

"What we are discussing right now is increasing the rotational presence of U.S. forces," Carlos Sorreta, the foreign ministry's Assistant Secretary for American Affairs, told reporters. A five-year joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise plan would be approved this week, he added.

The size of the increase in the U.S. military assets in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, was unclear.

Pio Lorenzo Batino, Philippine deputy defence minister, said there were "substantial discussions" on a possible new framework allowing Washington to put equipment in the Southeast Asian state.

"There has been no discussion yet on specifics ... (these are) policy consultations and the specifics would be determined by the technical working groups," he told a news conference, saying the new framework was discussed in the context of increasing rotational presence.   Continued...

 
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell (R) joins hands with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert (2nd R), Philippines ambassador to the U.S. Jose Cuisia and Philippines Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio (L) during a joint news conference after their meeting at a hotel in Manila December 12, 2012. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo