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Analysis

Alliance of US, Japan and PH hardens

In quick succession in one week, the United States sent a series of clear messages to China that it is firmly committed to protect the Philippines and Japan in their territorial disputes with Beijing.

In a face-off on Tuesday with China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: “We have mutual self-defense treaties with each of these countries, and we are fully committed to those treaty obligations.”

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The remark of Hagel was in response to a statement of Chang that the United States must “stay vigilant” against Japan’s actions and “not be permissive and supportive of Tokyo.” The encounter took place at the two defense officials’ meeting at China’s National Defense University—an exchange that heightened tensions among the three nations.

Hagel was in Japan earlier this week, reassuring its leaders of US support. America has criticized China’s recent declaration of an air defense identification zone over a large area of the East China Sea, including disputed remote islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China. The meeting between the two defense officials provided a platform for the United States and China to amplify their already well-known positions on territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines and Japan in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

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“Every nation has a right to establish an air defense identification zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally, with no collaboration, no consultation,” Hagel said. “That adds to tensions, misunderstandings, and could eventually get to dangerous conflict.”

Chang was similarly uncompromising. He said China was ready to resolve disputes diplomatically, but made it clear it was also ready to respond militarily to threats. Hagel countered that the United States takes no side on the sovereignty issue of the disputed islands but will defend the Philippines and Japan.

The Chinese defense minister told Hagel that China would not take the initiative to stir up trouble with Japan, but warned that it was ready to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory. He also complained that the Philippines is illegally occupying some of China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea. “We will make no compromise, no concession, no trading, not even a tiny [compromise],” he told Hagel.

On Wednesday, the Philippines commemorated the anniversary of the fall of Bataan to Japanese forces in World War II, with military ceremonies honoring the Marine detachment stationed at Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. President Aquino lauded the Marines for their “dedication” in safeguarding the shoal, which is also claimed by China. Last month, Chinese Coast Guard ships tried to block a Philippine boat carrying food, supplies and fresh troops to replace those posted on board the BRP Sierra Madre, which was grounded on the shoal in 1999 to assert Philippine sovereignty over it.

More significant than the recognition of the heroism of the Marine detachment on Ayungin Shoal was the ceremony on Bataan Day at Mount Samat, site of the Shrine of Valor for Filipino soldiers who died defending the Bataan peninsula against the Japanese invasion. The ceremony at Mount Samat symbolized the irony of the current alliance of the Philippines, Japan and the United States against China’s aggressive claims on disputed islands, shoals and reefs. In a speech at the shrine, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said America was standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the Philippines in the face of threats or disasters, given their alliance when they fought together against the Japanese during World War II.

“As shown in history and … until this very day, we can and will continue to work together shoulder to shoulder to improve each other’s militaries and our nations as a whole,” Goldberg said.

In his own remarks, the President noted that although the Philippines was devastated by the war in which more than a million Filipinos perished, the lessons of the past should “never be forgotten.”

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“Today it is clear that we (the Philippines and Japan) are friends and partners understanding that we are fellow citizens of humanity, with our own goals and our fears, capable of comprehending the thinking, culture and principles of each one, and working together to achieve the collective aspirations of our countries. In this way, we can ensure that the dark chapter of our history will not repeat itself,” he said.

The President also said that the government is undertaking a P36-billion modernization program for the military to better equip our soldiers. From July 2010 to March this year, the government has completed 38 projects, including the acquisition of modern vessels and equipment, he said, adding: “Should we ever need to enter battle, we cannot send our soldiers off armed only with their courage and daring.”

Emphasizing the growing entente between the Philippines and Japan to counter China’s territorial expansionist thrust, two Japanese warships arrived in Manila last April 2 for a visit to underscore the Philippines’ strategic importance in the region amid rising tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The destroyers JS Shirane and JS Asayuki of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s 13th Escort Division arrived here after a string of port visits of US warships.

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TAGS: Bataan Day, Beijing, Chang Wanquan, China, Chinese Coast Guard, Chuck Hagel, East China Sea, marines, Mount Samat, Philip Goldberg, President Aquino, President Benigno Aquino III, United States, West Philippine Sea
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