Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Manila and Washington
began joint war games today off the Filipino coast at a time of growing
tensions in the South China Sea. Filipino President Benigno Aquino said
he does not want to start a conflict with Beijing over the waters around the Spratly
and Paracel Islands and has signalled his availability for talks; however, China
has criticised the US move, with the Chinese defence ministry describing it as
proof of a "Cold War mentality".
More than 6,000 Filipino and US
soldiers will take part in the 12 days of naval exercises. Philippines'
armed forces chief Jessie Dellosa did not specifically mention China or the
South China Sea dispute but noted the war games highlighted strong US support
for its ally. This "exercise,
in coordination with all those we had in the past, (is) timely and mutually
beneficial," Dellosa explained.
Vietnam and Philippines have complained about China's
growing aggressiveness. Beijing claims large regions of the South China Sea,
including its many uninhabited islands rich in natural resources like oil and
Tensions spiked last week when
the Philippines tried to stop eight Chinese fishing boats off the coast of
Luzon. China deployed three vessels in response to the Philippines's attempt to
arrest its fishermen, causing a standoff with both countries launching protests
and trading accusations that the other was violating their sovereign territory.
In China, regional tensions have
become hotly debated among intellectuals and scholars. For Su Hao, director of
the Asia-Pacific Research Center at the China Foreign Affairs University, the United
States wants to show its support for the Philippines over the disputes, but
doesn't want to confront China directly yet.
Two other main US allies, Japan
and South Korea, will join the drill for the first time. The US is actually
taking this opportunity to unite its allies in this region as an alliance to
contain China's growth. At the same time, China has the right to develop its
naval force whilst building up bilateral trust and maintaining the overall
peace in the region.
Not everyone in China agrees with this softer
approach. In an unsigned editorial, the pro-government English-language Global
Times wrote, "It is
an urgent task for China to enhance its deterrence in the South China Sea. [. .
.] "China has to adopt firm actions to protect its rights" vis-à-vis the
Philippines and "demonstrate its strength".
At the same time, the paper slams
"Manila's arrogance" for "acting in the way of the small domineering over the
big," which "is one of the most ignorant attitudes in international relations."
"There is no need to take on
public opinions in the Philippines, Vietnam and the West," the editorial said. China
"should neither fear nor get nettled."
Among the nations of the
Asia-Pacific region, China has the most extensive claims in terms of maritime
borders in the South China Sea.
Its hegemonic claims are strategic in nature in
terms of trade, oil and natural gas. Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and
Taiwan are trying to resist Beijing. In this, they are supported by the United
States, which has its own strategic interests in the region.
In recent months, a number of warships and fishing
boats from different countries have been involved in a spate of incidents.