Top US envoy for East Asia in Manila for PH-US talks
MANILA, Philippines – A top US diplomat known for criticizing China’s controversial 9-dash line is in the Philippines for annual talks between Manila and Washington.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel met with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on the first day of the Fifth Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila on Tuesday, January 20.
Russel is the co-head of the US delegation to the dialogue, which aims to enhance the treaty allies’ relationship by facilitating discussion and cooperation on a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday that the two-day dialogue started with meetings of 4 working groups focusing on:
- Rule of Law and Law Enforcement
- Defense and Security
- Economics, Development and Prosperity
- Regional and Global Diplomatic Engagement
The DFA, and the Philippines’ departments of defense, trade and industry, and justice are part of the working groups.
Wide-ranging dialogue on US-PHL partnership graciously hosted by SFA del Rosario. Salamat po! pic.twitter.com/mfHEdXeZIh— EAP Bureau (@USAsiaPacific) January 20, 2015
Russel’s co-head for the US delegation is US Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear. The leaders of the Philippine delegation are DFA Undersecretary Evan P. Garcia and Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino.
The two sides will hold a press briefing detailing the outcome of the dialogue on Wednesday, January 21.
“The meeting ends with a plenary session in which the reports of the working groups are discussed and future directions for the bilateral relationship are charted,” the DFA said.
‘Inconsistent with international law’
Russel is known among foreign policy scholars following the South China Sea dispute for issuing what they call the US’ first public rejection of China’s 9-dash line.
China uses the 9-dash line to justify its expansive claim of almost 90% of the disputed sea. The Philippines filed a historic arbitration case before an international tribunal to nullify the 9-dash line under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In his testimony before the US Congress in February 2014, Russel said:
“Under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features. Any use of the ‘nine-dash line’ by China to claim maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law. The international community would welcome China to clarify or adjust its nine-dash line claim to bring it in accordance with the international law of the sea.”
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea. The strategic sea is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and gas, and is a key shipping route and fishing ground.
China? EDCA? VFA?
The Philippines-US talks are likely to touch on the South China Sea dispute, and military deals that came under fire last year after a US marine allegedly murdered Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude. Laude’s death fanned anti-US sentiment and became a thorny issue in the ties between the two close allies.
A/S Russel & Sec'y of Nat'l Defense Gazmin focused on keeping US-PHL Alliance strong & modern. pic.twitter.com/KCZh1YOpHN— EAP Bureau (@USAsiaPacific) January 20, 2015
Manila and Washington signed a 10-year deal in April 2014 called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which gives US troops wider access to Philippine military bases for exercises, joint training, and prepositioning and storing equipment, supplies and materiel.
The Philippines has one of the weakest militaries in Asia. Besides addressing this gap, the deal is widely expected to bolster US presence in the Asia Pacific as part of Washington’s pivot to Asia, and to deter China's growing aggression in the South China Sea.
The agreement has yet to be implemented pending the resolution of petitions before the Philippine Supreme Court.
Citing the Laude case, activists also renewed calls to abrogate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for supposedly being lopsided in favor of the US. The Philippines failed to get custody over US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton as the US invoked VFA provisions giving it the right to retain custody of a suspect.
In last year’s Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held in Washington DC, the Philippines and the US discussed cooperation in disaster relief and finalizing EDCA negotiations, and indirectly called on China and other parties to follow international law.
“Both sides expressed opposition to unilateral measures that aim to alter the status quo and that escalate tensions in the region and called on all parties to exercise self-restraint,” said the joint statement in reference to reclamation in the disputed sea.
A former US colony, the Philippines maintains strong relations with the US.
America is one of the largest trading partners of the Philippines, with a total trade of $1.22 billion from January to June 2014. It also a major source of aid, with official development assistance to the Philippines worth $875.30 million in 2014.
The DFA said that the alliance between Manila and Washington under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is the “cornerstone of peace and stability in the region.” – Rappler.com