PH seeks US military help amid China row

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 26 2012 10:34 PM | Updated as of Apr 27 2012 06:12 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines said Thursday it would seek more US military help during top-level talks next week, as it ignored a warning from China not to "internationalize" a tense territorial dispute.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines was looking to the United States to help it achieve a "credible" defense system, and wanted to extract maximum benefits from a mutual defense treaty between the allies.

Signed in 1951, the treaty calls on both sides to come to each other's aid in times of external attacks, and the Philippines has highlighted the pact as it stands up to Beijing over rival claims to the South China Sea.

"We are going to the United States in order to be able to maximise the benefits derived out of this mutual defence treaty," del Rosario told reporters.

"The idea of achieving a minimum credible defence posture is something that we should try to do."

Del Rosario and Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin are expected to meet with their US counterparts Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta in Washington on April 30.

The meeting comes as the Philippines is locked in an increasingly tense dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal, a group of islets in the South China Sea where vessels from both sides have been in a stand-off since April 8.

China on Wednesday warned the Philippines not to "internationalise" the issue and force other countries to take sides.

But del Rosario said Thursday the dispute also impacted other countries that wanted unhampered access to vital sea lanes.

"I think all nations who have an interest in keeping freedom of navigation... should be watching carefully as to what is happening there," he said.

"We would want all nations, including the United States, to make a judgment on what is happening there and what the implications are to their own country," he said.

Del Rosario did not say what specific help the Philippines wanted in the US talks, but defence officials earlier said Manila would ask to acquire a coast guard vessel and F-16 fighter jets.

China claims all of the South China Sea as a historic part of its territory, even waters close to the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.

Experts say the overlapping claims are a potential flashpoint that could destabilise regional security.

The Philippines has accused China of increasingly being aggressive in staking its claims.