MANILA - A Palace official is unsure if President Benigno Aquino will seek US President Barack Obama's concrete support for the Philippine position in its maritime dispute with China when the American leader visits Manila next week.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he is not sure if the discussions will go that far when the two leaders sit down for a bilateral meeting in Malacanang next week.
"As previously mentioned, defense will certainly be discussed. But it will be in the point of security relations, alliances with the United States," he said.
"If you’re talking about defense and security, in the realm of possibilities, will [China] be discussed? Let’s wait for Monday’s discussion. There will be a joint statement that will come out after the [bilaterals]. So we don’t want to speculate. But we’re talking about defense, we’re talking of security, we’re talking of trade. There are three things that matter between our relations with the United States, so those things will be discussed."
The fate of the enhanced defense cooperation agreement between Manila and Washington, which is expected to be finalized during the Obama visit, also remains to be seen.
“We are still waiting word from the Defense and the Foreign Affairs (departments). Well, as far as I know, according to Secretary (Sonny) Coloma, it is being vetted by the other agencies," Lacierda said.
Obama will be in the Philippines on April 28 and 29, the last stop in his 4-country swing in Asia.
Lacierda said the Palace is now preparing for the security of Obama's trip, which is expected to be met with protests from militant groups.
OBAMA SUPPORTS JAPAN'S DEFENSE
Obama, who is currently in Japan, assured Tokyo on Thursday that Washington was committed to its defense, including of tiny isles at the heart of a row with China, but denied he had drawn any new "red line" and urged peaceful dialogue over the islands.
His comments drew a swift response from China, which said the disputed islets were Chinese territory.
Obama also urged Japan to take "bold steps" to clinch a two-way trade pact seen as crucial to a broad regional agreement that is a central part of the US leader's "pivot" of military, diplomatic and economic resources towards Asia and the Pacific.
"We don't take a position on final sovereignty determinations with respect to Senkaku, but historically they have been administered by Japan and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally and what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan," Obama said.
"This is not a new position, this is a consistent one," he told a joint news conference after his summit with Abe, using the Japanese name for the islands that China, which also claims sovereignty over them, calls the Diaoyu.
"In our discussions, I emphasized with Prime Minister Abe the importance of resolving this issue peacefully," Obama added.
While his comments amounted to a restatement of longstanding US policy, there was symbolism in the commitment being stated explicitly by a US president in Japan.
Obama also said there were opportunities to work with China - which complains that his real aim is to contain its rise - but called on the Asian power to stick to international rules.
"What we've also emphasized, and I will continue to emphasize throughout this trip, is that all of us have responsibilities to help maintain basic rules of the world and international order, so that large countries, small countries, all have to abide by what is considered just and fair," he said.
Some of China's neighbors with territorial disputes with Beijing worry that Obama's apparent inability to rein in Russia, which annexed Crimea last month, could send a message of weakness to China.
The diplomatic challenge for Obama during his week-long, four-nation regional tour is to convince Asian partners that Washington is serious about its promised strategic "pivot," while at the same time not harming U.S. ties with China, the world's second-biggest economy.
Aside from Japan and the Philippines, Obama will also travel to South Korea and Malaysia.
Japan lobbied hard to get the White House to agree to an official state visit, the first by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton in 1996. - with a report from Reuters