U.S. to Aid Philippines Defenses Amid China Conflicts

The U.S. will assist the Philippines in improving its defense capabilities as the island-nation faces frequent disputes with China over fishing and mineral rights in the South China Sea, two U.S. officials said.

Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin visited Washington this week for the first so-called 2+2 meeting with their counterparts, Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta.

The U.S. is helping the Philippines draft a long-term military modernization plan that calls for the Pentagon to supply coastal patrol vessels and maritime radar as well as assisting the country in obtaining equipment from U.S. allies in the region, according to the U.S. officials, who spoke with reporters yesterday on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic matters.

The focus of Philippine cooperation with the U.S. is “to build a minimum credible defense posture,” Del Rosario said in a May 2 speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, after the April 30 meeting with Clinton and Panetta.

Vessels from the Philippines and China were involved in at least six disputes last year over which nation had access to reefs and islands in the South China Sea, according to a report by the International Crisis Group titled, “Stirring Up the South China Sea.” The Brussels-based group says it works to prevent conflict worldwide.

The Philippines calls the disputed area the West Philippine Sea. The latest incident occurred on April 10, when two Chinese ships stopped the Philippine Navy from inspecting Chinese fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

Korea, Japan, Australia

In addition to providing excess defense equipment to the Philippines, the U.S. is assisting in discussions with South Korea, Japan and Australia to obtain defense equipment from them, the officials said.

The U.S. provided the Philippines with a used Coast Guard cutter last year and plans to transfer another one later this year, one of the officials said.

The U.S. offered $142.4 million to the Philippines in fiscal 2012 including military and economic assistance, according to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service. The State Department, which provides such funding, is seeking $144.4 million in fiscal 2013, according to congressional data.

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