05/03/2012, 00.00
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South China Sea: Manila to buy US hardware to contain Beijing

The Philippines's foreign secretary says his country needs patrol boats, aircraft and radar systems to monitor the area and develop a "minimum credible defence". Japan, Australia and South Korea could be among the Philippines partners to contain China.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In order to contain Beijing's expansionism in the South China Sea, Manila has called on Washington for military aid, including patrol boats, aircrafts and a coastal radar system, this according to the Philippines' Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario. The request is a sign of the growing tensions in the area, of an emerging 'Cold War' between China and other Asia-Pacific nations, backed tacitly by the United States.

For del Rosario, US military hardware is fundamental for a "minimum credible defence" against mainland China, which has sent four naval vessels and ten fishing boats off the coast of the Philippines. A few weeks ago, the United States and Philippines conducted 12-days joint military exercises that involved 6,000 soldiers, which China strongly criticised.

We "need to deter any additional incursions into our seas where we have sovereign rights," the Filipino foreign minister said. "We're looking for assistance from other international partners who have also been very forthcoming," he added. Such partners include Japan, Australia and South Korea.

Beijing has rejected a proposal by the Filipino government to submit the case to international arbitration to settle the maritime borders dispute.

In 2009, China presented a map to the UN claiming virtually the entire South China Sea. It has also sought bilateral negotiations with individual nations rather than a global agreement.

Control of the area is strategically significant in terms of trade and fossil fuels (oil and natural gas).

Beijing's expansionist aims have been opposed by Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, plus the United States, which has its own strategic interests in the area.

During the last ASEAN summit on 3 April in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Filipino President Benigno Aquino suggested that the ten-nation association "maintain a common stance" vis-à-vis China, which favours instead bilateral deals with the various stakeholders to take advantage of its greater economic and military clout.

On 16 April, the Philippines and the United States began 12 days of joint naval exercises. China slammed the move, criticising Manila for trying to exert its control in the South China Sea, proof of its "Cold War mentality".

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