Foreign affairs expert Richard Heydarian believes that U.S. aircraft carriers' patrol in the Philippine Sea shows Washington's iron-clad security commitment to the Philippines and its allies in the region.
"We’re gonna have a new president soon and new administration, so I think the US is also trying to signal that they’re gonna be a very important security partner for us," Heydarian told ANC's Dateline Philippines on Monday.
READ: US aircraft carriers start drills off PH
The USS John C. Stennis and the USS Ronald Reagan started conducting air defense drills and sea surveillance operations east of the Philippines during the weekend.
Heydarian, a political science professor and author of the book "Asia's New Battlefield", said China's strong military presence in the region, especially in the disputed West Philippine Sea, can only be matched by that of the United States'.
"There are indications that China may build military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal, which is only 120 nautical miles away from Luzon area, and China also calls it an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the Spratly chain of islands," he said.
"We are closely reaching a moment of truth that's why it is important for the United States to show force because it's the only power that can really match China's growing military footprint in the area and I think the United States is making it clear they are willing to play this game of chicken with China until China blinks," he added.
Heydarian said China would protest the growing American military force in the region.
"Clearly, from the Chinese point-of-view, we are the ASEAN provocateurs and the United States is interfering in issues that are completely bilateral between China and the Philippines," he said.
But he said this opinion may not be shared by many other countries in the region.
"I don’t think that’s how other countries feel. I think majority of countries around the world…in one way or another are very supportive of growing American military presence in the area," he said.
He attributed this to the strong presence of the U.S. forces in the area for the past seven decades, and that it is China which is challenging the status quo.
Heydarian also highlighted Washington's important role once the Philippines' arbitration case against China has been decided, because "the arbitration outcome is binding, but it’s not enforceable."
"The arbitral tribunal itself doesn’t have the ability to enforce it and China’s gonna ignore it, so it’s really up to the United States its naval muscle, and that of its allies to implement it," he said.
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Heydarian also warned the incoming Duterte administration regarding pursuing bilateral talks with China.
"If the incoming Duterte administration wants to reach out to China, it’s possible the Chinese in exchange may ask the Duterte administration not to further expand bilateral security relations with the United States, not to allow greater American military presence within the Philippine areas of control and jurisdiction," he said.
Heydarian added that the Philippines may use the favorable ruling as a leverage and extract certain concessions from China "because clearly, China is in a panic mode," and will try to de-legitimize the arbitration proceeding.
He said the Philippines my ask China to "give me concessions—you have to allow our fishermen and ships to have better access across our economic zone and do not build military facilities on Scarborough."
Heydarian said bilateral talks should only be pursued once the verdict is out because "what’s the point in having bilateral talks if you have no leverage or whatsoever?"
"But it’s important that Duterte will not give way to China and will not give in too much concessions also in exchange for any prospect China’s concessions within our economic zones," he said.