WASHINGTON, USA - The US military said Tuesday it plans to provide a land-based radar to the Philippines, as the country faces an escalating dispute with China over territorial rights off its shore.
The radar would form part of a "watch center" to help track ships off the island nation's coast line, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
"We are in the initial planning stages of assisting the Philippines with a National Coast Watch Center," Major Catherine Wilkinson told AFP.
"This center will improve their maritime domain awareness of a breadth of security issues including counter proliferation of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) to countering illegal smuggling," she said.
The cost and the time line for the project were still being worked out, she said.
Plans to provide a powerful radar to the Philippines came after Philippine President Benigno Aquino paid a visit last week to the White House, where he was offered a robust show of support.
Manila has asked for the radar system and other military assistance to bolster its position in a row with Beijing over the Scarborough Shoal, which lies near the main Philippine island of Luzon.
China claims the area along with virtually all of the South China Sea up to the shores of other Southeast Asian nations, including Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The move reflects Washington's strategic shift towards Asia amid a growing rivalry with Beijing, with the South China Sea at the center of the contest, analysts said.
"Land-based radar is one of the practical ways the United States can simultaneously boost Philippine defense capabilities and signal Washington's long-term commitment to Asia," said Patrick Cronin, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.
China may choose to defuse tensions just before a gathering of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations next month, Cronin said.
"But it is also possible that China is determined to humiliate the Philippines and, indirectly, the United States," he told AFP.
The Philippines has also expressed interest in patrol vessels and aircraft to help monitor the vast waters off its coast, where the Chinese have sent ships to assert their territorial claims.
It was unlikely the United States would look at providing military aircraft at a time when China may be preparing a conciliatory gesture, Cronin said.
"If China persists with embarrassing the Philippines, then I have no doubt aircraft sales will follow," he said.