WASHINGTON – The United States should consider leasing big-ticket military hardware to the Philippines to give it the capability to defend its sovereign territory against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, a former head of the US Pacific Fleet said.
Retired Navy Adm. James Lyons, in a commentary in the editorial pages of The Washington Times, said the US should consider leasing a squadron of F-16 along with T-38 supersonic trainers, an aircraft for maritime patrol, and two FFG-7 guided-missile frigates to provide a recognized capability to enforce the Philippines’ offshore territorial claims.
Since the election of President Aquino, US analysts and foreign policy experts have called for a more robust US military assistance to the Philippines to counter “China’s aggressive action in the South China Sea.”
In his commentary on Monday, Lyons said former President Arroyo, in return for billions of dollars poured into the Philippines, provided unfettered access to China and signed 65 bilateral agreements with it, including an oil exploration undertaking in 2004 shrouded in controversy as it may have conceded territorial waters to the Chinese.
He said after the US left the Philippines in 1991, China unilaterally declared sovereignty over various disputed islands in the South China Sea, and started building an air and naval base on Woody Island in the Paracel Island chain and new facilities in the Spratly Island chain.
Lyons said that in 1995, China built a facility on Mischief Reef, which is clearly recognized to be in the Philippine economic zone. And last year, a retired People’s Liberation Army deputy chief of the general staff called for the construction of a formal air and naval base on Mischief Reef.
Lyons said such a base would allow the PLA to place naval, air and missile forces astride the Palawan Strait, one of the key strategic sea lanes in the Western Pacific. This, he said, poses a military threat to the Philippines and the security of the sea-lanes through which much of the world’s trade passes.
He said that for the past 15 years, US policy on this issue has been adrift and Washington has failed to confront Beijing over its illegal actions in any meaningful way.
However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a July meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Hanoi, signaled a change in the US position by directly confronting China.
Clinton said conflicting claims over contested South China Sea areas should be resolved through regional discussions and solutions instead of on a one-on-one basis as preferred by China.
Lyons said now that President Barack Obama’s administration has directly challenged China, the US should expand its relations with ASEAN “by building on our Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.”
The US should negotiate a commercial agreement for access to logistic support facilities in Subic Bay.
“The new Philippine president will come under intense pressure from China to prevent any expansion of US activities. However, neither we nor the new Philippine government should be deterred by Chinese bluster from doing what is right,” Lyons said.
- By Jose Katigbak / STAR Washington Bureau (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)