Defense chief lays out new military aid to Philippines

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will send about $40 million in military assistance to the Philippines to beef up intelligence sharing, surveillance and naval patrols, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday, amid increasing tensions with China over undeveloped islands and shoals in the region.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, Carter said the aid will take the alliance to a new level. It will include an enhanced information network for classified communications, sensors for patrol vessels and an unmanned aerostat reconnaissance airship, Carter said.

Officials recently announced that the U.S. will get access to five Philippine military bases to house American forces that will rotate in and out of the country for training and other missions. And Carter said he plans to visit two of those bases next week when he travels to the Philippines and India.

While in Philippines, Carter also will see the end of the Balikatan or shoulder-to-shoulder combat exercises that started Monday and involve about 3,500 Filipino troops and 5,000 American military personnel.

The 11-day maneuvers aim to prepare U.S. and Philippine troops to respond quickly to a range of potential crises, including in the disputed South China Sea.

The aid and the exercises come as territorial disputes with China continue to roil nations in the South China. The U.S. and others have consistently said the military exercises and assistance packages are not aimed at China but represent America's continued support for its allies in the region.

The patrol sensors and surveillance equipment will help the Philippines keep a watch over its territory, including areas where there are overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Manila has filed a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international panel, revolving around the sovereignty claims of some maritime features in the South China Sea that are claimed by both China and the Philippines. The court has agreed to take on the case.

The Philippines brought its disagreements with China to international arbitration in January 2013, a year after Chinese coast guard ships took effective control of the disputed Scarborough Shoal following a tense standoff with Filipino ships.

The shoal sits about 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of the Philippines, and 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the Chinese coast, and is often frequented by Filipino fisherman.

Manila's move to take the case to the international court angered Beijing and strained relations. Beijing has objected to the case, saying the panel has no jurisdiction in the matter. A decision on the case is expected in the coming months.