The governments of the Philippines and the United States are in talks about expanding the American military presence in the island nation. The renewed commitment is part of a comprehensive effort on the part of the Obama Administration to firmly establish America as a Pacific power.
Among the options to bolster America’s alliance with the Philippines are deploying more troops to the islands on a rotational basis and operating United States Navy ships from Philippine ports. Some six hundred Special Forces already operate in the Philippines in assistance of local counterinsurgency efforts.
A future agreement would follow the basing of US Marines in northern Australia and the stationing of warships in the port of Singapore. The United States have also reached out to Thailand and Vietnam to discuss military cooperation. It is all part of an effort to back up President Barack Obama’s words with action. He insisted last November that, “The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has earlier declared stability in Southeast Asia to be of “national interest” to the United States, a claim that drew a fierce rebuke from the Chinese who argued that “China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact.”
It’s because of China’s emergence as an economic superpower and regional hegemon that other countries in East Asia welcome America’s security presence to provide balance.
Especially in the South China Sea region, revisionist Chinese border claims have antagonized its neighbors and the United States alike. Both recognize the importance of safeguarding free shipping though this strategically positioned body of water. Officials in the Philippines acknowledged that their priority is to strengthen maritime ties with the Americans to dissuade Chinese saber rattling to their west.
American attempts at mediation have so far failed to significantly change Chinese behavior and may be unlikely to. The country is facing major demographic challenges as well as resource and water scarcities well into the twenty-first century, compelling it to ensure a favorable balance of power in its vicinity and a foothold in Africa and Central Asia where there are natural riches to be secured.
This could pose a threat to the sovereignty and security of China’s neighbors if Beijing is unwilling to share the role of security provider in East Asia with the United States.
The Americans currently have several tens of thousands of troops stationed across East Asia, in Guam, Japan and South Korea.
This article also appeared in The Seoul Times, January 28, 2012.