Tuesday, April 2, 2013


State Secretary John Kerry left no room for doubt about America’s affinity for the Philippines, describing it as a “very, very important” ally.

I guess in diplomatese that could translate to a “major, major friend” in the Asia-Pacific where the US is in the midst of a strategic “re-balance”. He wasn’t just buttering up to visiting Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Some officials insist there’s a new dynamic in relations between the two longtime allies. The US and Philippines, Kerry averred, have a “very, very important relationship at this point”. He cited rising tensions over the South China Sea as well as the Philippine’s interest to join the 11-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“We agreed that as strategic partners, it is important for both our nations to further deepen our relations on all levels,” Del Rosario said after their closed-door meeting. “We agreed that our long shared history and profound common values serve as a firm basis for this.”

The US pivot to Asia has put the Philippines, which is widely perceived here as having repaired its reputation for abuse and corruption, in a new light for American policy-makers. Many say irritants have become fewer and the room for cooperation wider.

“I think they like what they see in the Philippines and want to encourage us, and help us to succeed,” one ranking diplomat explained to us.

The Philippines relies on the US security umbrella, including hand-me-down military hardware, to deter an increasingly aggressive China. At the same time, the US will need willing and reliable regional partners to expand its footprint in Asia.

On the table is the “rotation” of US forces to the Philippines, which is rapidly regaining its old role as a major logistics hub for the US military. The US Navy recently signed a contract with an American contractor working out of Subic, Zambales to re-supply and repair its ships. They are reportedly looking at empty warehouses in Cubi Point to pre-position materiel for disaster relief as well as the rapid deployment of state-side forces to Asia if the need arises.  

“Our ability to deter threats or provocation is an important part of cooperation,” Del Rosario declared. “In this context, we discussed our joint efforts to build the capacity of the Philippines to defend its territory and people. We also exchanged views on the implementation of our agreed policy of increased rotational presence and enhanced exercises.”

Also in town was Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who became the 3rd Asian leader to meet with President Obama in his 2nd term. The visit comes as the US Navy begins deployment of the 1st of four littoral combat ships (LCS) in Singapore next week.

Those futuristic warships, seemingly tailor suited for waters in Southeast Asian archipelagic nations, are expected to sail in Philippines waters when the CARAT naval exercises get underway in a few months.

US Navy ships calling at Subic have noticeably increased; at least four in the last month alone, including the 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge.

Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano is expected in DC this week. The 2nd of the Hamilton-class all-weather patrol ships acquired from the US Coast Guard is scheduled to finally sail for Manila after months of training and refurbishing by her Filipino crew in North Carolina.

Also on the table is the Philippine interest to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which aims to eliminate tariffs among the 11-nation trading bloc. The US, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are currently negotiating a regional free trade agreement. The last round of talks was held in Singapore last month, and the next, the17th round is scheduled in Peru next month.

“The Foreign Secretary and I will talk about the important trade relationship, and particularly the TPP, which we both have interest in. And I look forward to having a very good conversation with him about that,” Kerry said.

Some impediments for the Philippines are its constitutional limits on foreign ownership, backward labor practices and intellectual property rights violations.

The US is reportedly backing the Philippines for TPP membership and at the same time nudging it to adopt reforms, including amending the Constitution and enacting new laws to ensure a “level playing field” for foreign investors and businesses in the country.

An official said they felt a “readiness to help” from their US counterparts on the Philippine’s TPP bid. Whether it’s helping the country stare down a powerful, menacing neighbor or opening the door to an exclusive economic club, there appears to be an unprecedented confluence of interests between the two longtime allies.

No comments:

Post a Comment