Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Victor Ibrado, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Philippine Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro (Photo: Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Force)

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Victor Ibrado, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Philippine Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro (Photo: Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Force)

The United States could have picked a better day to reassure the Philippines on which side of the fence they stand on as the Scarborough Shoal standoff reaches week four. The Chen Guangcheng situation in Beijing is coming to a boil, and an increasingly paranoid North Korean adds extra salt and pepper to this stew. Here’s the full report on the U.S.’s commitment to the Philippines:

With a standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships under way in a disputed corner of the South China Sea, senior leaders from the United States and the Philippines have reaffirmed their longstanding commitment to mutual defense.

“We oppose the threat or use of force by any party to advance its claim,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said after the meeting Monday in Washington. “And we will remain in close contact with our ally, the Philippines.”

Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with their Philippine counterparts, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. They discussed broadening their military alliance as well as expanding economic and cultural ties.

The meeting took place as the standoff in the South China Sea entered its fourth week.

Since April 8, maritime vessels from China and the Philippines have been stationed at Scarborough Shoal, a disputed string of rock outcroppings about 125 miles west of Luzon Island in the northern Philippines. Both countries claim the area and have demanded that the other leave.

The Philippine government has accused China of “bullying” its vessels in the disputed area by making aggressive maneuvers, and lawmakers have called on the country to stand its ground.

Late last week, a Chinese general suggested that his government should be open to taking military action.

At the meeting in Washington, del Rosario said his country was seeking the help of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has been largely silent on the issue. The Philippines is also seeking U.N. mediation in the dispute, but China opposes that option.

When asked whether the United States would come to the aid of the Philippines if it were attacked at Scarborough Shoal, del Rosario responded: “They have expressed that they will honor their obligations under the mutual defense treaty.”

The treaty obligates the two nations to defend each another in the case of attack, although it is not clear how that might be applied in a disputed area.

Discussions of broader military cooperation have been under way since last year, when the administration of President Obama announced a strategic “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific region.

In November, Clinton visited Manila and proclaimed continued U.S. military support from the deck of a warship.

Any expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, would be controversial. The Philippine government forced the United States to close its military bases in the country in 1992, and any suggestion that the return of permanent U.S. facilities is being considered remains highly sensitive. (Source: Floyd Whaley, The New York Times)

When the U.S. dusted off their old manuals on Pacific Foreign Policy and dove back into those dangerous, churning blue waters, I didn’t believe they’d  start knocking heads with China before shaking all the Afghan dust and Middle Eastern sand out of their boots.

Apparently the US government and military are able to deftly manage all of those things…

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch