US seeks to expand cooperation with Philippines as China ‘undermines’ regional peace, stability

In this July 16, 2019 photo, US Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell delivers his remarks on the strategic priorities in the Philippines following the US-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila. US Embassy/Released. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

MANILA, Sep 21, 2019, PhilStar. While the United States deems Beijing as a threat to the region, Washington sees an opportunity to strengthen ties with its Southeast Asian partners and allies. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Trump administration is committed to efforts throughout the region, reported The Philippine Star.

“In Southeast Asia, there is great potential to further expand cooperation with treaty allies Thailand and the Philippines, and with important partners such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore,” Stilwell said in his testimony for the 2020 budget of his bureau.

Stilwell also noted that the US is coordinating with treaty allies Japan, Australia and South Korea, which also have their own Indo-Pacific strategies.

The assistant secretary also stressed Washington’s deep concern against China’s “provocative” actions against oil and gas activities in the South China Sea.

“These actions undermine peace and stability in the region, and call into quesion Beijing’s commitment to peaceful of maritime disputes,” he said.

He noted that Chinese vessels have been conducting maritime surveys escorted by coast guard and maritime militia near Vanguard Bank in the South China Sea to intimidate Vietnam.

“Through repeated illegal actions and militarization of disputed features, Beijing has and continues to take actions to prevent ASEAN members from accessing over $2.5 trillion in recoverable energy reserves,” Stilwell said.

The US Department of State official renewed the call on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to come up with a framework in accordance with international law and respects the rights and interests of third parties.

ASEAN member states and China have been negotiating on a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

As Washington raises concern over Beijing’s efforts to deter Southeast Asian states from developing oil and gas resources in the South China Sea, Manila is seeking a possible joint exploration with China.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself said the country will “ignore” the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea in order to pursue economic activity with China.

“Kasi ‘yang exclusive economic zone is part of the arbitral ruling which we will ignore to come up with an economic activity,” Duterte said last week.

According to Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 60-40 sharing scheme as long as the Philippines will set aside its claim in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.

“Set aside your claim. Then allow everybody connected with the Chinese companies,” Duterte told reporters, recalling his conversation with Xi.

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