Wednesday, June 22, 2011


The United States is asking the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to include the growing dispute in the Spratly Islands taken up at a major regional meet in Indonesia later this year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has revealed in Washington DC.

“The East Asia Summit is important to us because ASEAN is in the driver’s seat, it’s strategic and it’s leaders-led,” Del Rosario told Fil-Am newsmen referring to the Oct. 21 conference in Jakarta. The US, along with Russia, are joining the EAS for the first time.

“It’s a source of great satisfaction that Russia and the United States are joining for the first time,” Del Rosario averred.

Del Rosario, who was Philippine Ambassador to Washington for over 5 years, is scheduled to meet tomorrow with State Secretary Hillary Clinton and top Pentagon officials on Thursday.

The Philippines has been designated as the US's point of contact with ASEAN.

“ASEAN has an agenda that it’s trying to push. China is saying they like the agenda which includes such concerns as energy, education, finance, disease and disaster mitigation but the US wants to include political and security issues,” he explained.

“When you talk about political and security that includes maritime security because they want to make sure freedom of navigation is part of that discussion. Of course when China thinks of freedom of navigation they immediately think Spratly Islands which is actually the desire of many of the parties concerned,” Del Rosario added.

The EAS will be attended by President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, the Prime Ministers of Australia, India, Japan and New Zealand, and the heads of state of ASEAN member nations Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore.

There has also been a growing clamor for a more robust American naval presence in the South China Sea with various US leaders voicing this position.

The debate spilled over to a two-day conference on Maritime Security in the South China Sea organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that ends Tuesday at Georgetown University. Tempers rose as Filipino and Chinese experts clashed on the basis of each other’s claims over the Spratly Islands.

In a separate forum organized by the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation, Asian Studies Director Walter Lohman said, “The security situation in the South China Sea is deteriorating in a way unseen since the mid-1990s. And given the growth in China’s military power and global influence since then, it is a much bigger problem for the United States.”

He noted that freedom of navigation was the “bedrock, non-negotiable interest of the United States”. It also has legal security obligations in the region because the Philippines is an American treaty ally, Lohman pointed out.

Del Rosario reiterated his belief that the 60-year-old PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty can be invoked in case Filipino forces are attacked in the Spratly Islands.

A senior DFA official travelling with Del Rosario disclosed that two exchanges of letters between top US and Philippine officials make this clear. In 1979, US State Secretary Cyrus Vance wrote DFA Secretary Carlos P. Romulo declaring that the MDT covers not only attacks on the “metropolitan areas” of the Philippines (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao) but also the “Pacific Area”.

She added an exchange of letter between US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard and DFA Secretary Domingo Siazon in 1999 further defined the MDT’s scope by affirming a declaration by US Defense Secretary William Cohen that the South China Sea was part of the “Pacific Area”.

Del Rosario also backed the growing cacophony of opinions from Filipino officials and the public at large on the Spratly Islands dispute with China.

“My view is people are following the lead of the DFA and to the extent that people appreciate that view and to the extent people speak about this frequently and loudly I think it benefits us,” he said.

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