China slams Philippine-US defence pact

The Royal New Zealand Air Force at Clark airfield, Luzon, in 1984. Foreign jets will soon return. Source: Wikipedia

Chinese state media has condemned the Philippine Supreme Court’s backing of a defence pact allowing US forces, warships and planes to be based temporarily in Philippine military camps, calling the move “stupid” and warning of consequences.

The outspoken editorial in the state-run Xinhua News Agency said the deal would “only escalate tensions and undermine peace and stability in the region”.

Manila “appears to be now turning to Uncle Sam to back its ambition to counter China”, the piece said, using a Cold-War phrase.

The court’s ruling declared that the American pact was constitutional in its bid to allow the US to bolster efforts to reassert its regional presence and fits Philippine desires for Washington to help counter Chinese claims on the South China Sea.

The US welcomed the court’s decision, saying the pact would bolster their ability to respond to disasters and strengthen the Philippine military, which is also fighting several insurgencies against militant groups in its largely Muslim south.

Xinhua stated: “Manila has to bear the negative consequences of its stupid move in the future.” It “could push the situation to the brink of war”, the agency added.

In 1992, almost 100 years of American military presence in the Philippines ended when senators in Manila voted not to renew the leases on US bases amid a tide of nationalism.

China responded almost immediately by increasing its presence in the South China Sea.

Manila is increasingly turning to Washington as it attempts to strengthen its military, which is regarded as one of the worst equipped in Asia.

Beijing has transformed seven disputed reefs into islands with runways and facilities that neighbouring countries say can be used militarily.

The Philippines says Chinese personnel used torches and flares to challenge Philippine military flights over the contested Spratly Islands.

Washington engineered the supreme court’s decision to uphold the pact, claimed Xinhua and Filipino left-wingers opposed the decision and are reportedly considering an appeal.

The Philippine deal offeres the US eight bases where it can station personnel and store equipment under a new security deal.

“The list has been prepared many months ago when we had earlier discussions,” Colonel Restituto Padilla announced, saying five military airfields, two naval bases and a jungle-training camp were being offered to the US.

“These are still subject for approval and we’re going to hold final discussions about these areas.”

Three of these bases are on the main island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, including Clark airfield, a former US Air Force base, and two are on the western island of Palawan, near the South China Sea.

The Americans are also seeking access to three civilian seaports and airfields on Luzon, including Subic Bay, a former US Navy base, an officer said.

Last year, more than 100 US naval vessels docked in Subic and two advanced nuclear-powered stealth submarines made visits in the first two weeks of this year.

“Subic is important to the Americans because it is one of the few areas in the country where they can actually dock safely,” said an unnamed defence source.