MANILA (1st UPDATE) - President Barack Obama said Monday the US goal was not to contain or counter China, hours after the United States signed a new defense agreement with the Philippines.
Obama, however, backed Manila's effort to get its territorial disputes with China adjudicated by international arbitration, during a visit to Manila which is being closely watched in Beijing.
In a joint press conference after bilateral talks with President Aquino and his contingent, Obama said: “Our goal is not to counter China, not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected.”
He said the US has been consistent in its message that maritime disputes should be resolved peacefully at an arbitral tribunal, something that China continues to snub until now.
“The goal is to make sure everyone is operating in a peaceful and responsible fashion,” he said.
Obama noted that the US relationship with China is vital insofar as trade is concerned.
“I think it’s good for the region and the world if China is successfully developing and lifting its people out of poverty,” he said.
The same should be the focus of others in the Asian region, he said.
“It’s inevitable that China’s going to be a dominant power in this region just by its sheer size. Nobody denies that… The question is if other regions will prosper in their own terms, attending to the needs of their people.”
No new US bases
Obama’s comments at a press conference came a few hours after the two nations signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which will allow American troops greater access to military bases.
He clarified that the US is not trying to reclaim old bases or build new ones.
“The goal [of EDCA] is wide-ranging… The goal is to build Philippine capacity [not simply to deal] with issues of maritime security, but also to enhance capabilities for disasters.”
Obama also dodged criticisms of US foreign policy. “I think the criticism is the failure to use military force. Why are we so eager when we just went to war at an enormous cost?”
President Aquino said its dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea is not the end-all and be-all of its relationship with China.
“Both President Obama and I share the conviction that territorial and maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific region should be settled peacefully, based on international law. We affirm that arbitration is an open, friendly, and peaceful approach to seeking a just and durable solution,” he said.
“We also underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Declaration of Conduct and the expeditious conclusion of a substantive and legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea—all towards fostering peace and stability in our part of the world,” he added. -- by Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com; with Agence France-Presse