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06 May 2012

U.S. urges China and other claimant of Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal to clarify claims under UNCLOS

Bajo de Masinloc Scarborough Shoal panatag shoalAmid the standoff between the Philippines and China in the Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), United States (U.S.) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton firmly reiterated that the U.S. will honor its treaty obligations under its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines and urged claimant countries in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to clarify and settle their claims legally in accordance with international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a move which the Philippines has been advocating.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta likewise stressed that the MDT “remains the cornerstone of our security relationship” and added that the U.S. is “improving the Philippines’ maritime presence and capabilities with the transfer of a second high-endurance cutter this year.” He  also said that the Pentagon is “working to expand and improve [PHL-U.S.] joint ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and the ability to counter cyber-attacks.”
With reference to the competing claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Secretary Panetta echoed the Philippine position by declaring that the U.S. is “committed to a rules-based regional order that promotes viable and vibrant trade and the freedom of navigation.”
Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta made those statements during the first-ever Two Plus Two meeting held recently in Washington, D.C. between Secretary Albert F. del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, on one hand, and Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta, on the other.
In a separate meeting with the Philippine delegation at the Pentagon, Secretary Panetta agreed to intensify Philippine-U.S. cooperation on real-time information-sharing to enable the Philippines to know what is happening in its maritime territory on a 24/7 basis and enforce its laws within its territory. The U.S. Defense Secretary said “that [the U.S.] will do everything possible to work with the Philippines.”
Assistant Secretary Andrew Shapiro, who heads the State Department’s Bureau for Political-Military Affairs, also informed the Philippine delegation that the U.S. executive branch will double its initial allocation of $15 million for the Philippines, in terms of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to $30 million for FY 2012. The State Department also committed that aside from this, it will explore additional creative funding streams for the Philippines.
During the Two Plus Two Consultations, the Philippines and the U.S. agreed to enhance their defense and security engagements within the framework of the MDT that will allow them to more effectively address the current and emerging security challenges in a mutually beneficial manner.
According to Secretary del Rosario, “the focal point for our cooperation is to build a minimum credible defense posture for the Philippines, and increase our capacity for territorial defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
He added that “our joint military exercises, which are aimed to ensure interoperability of our forces, will continue to be priority activities in this effort.”
The Philippines and the U.S. also discussed steps to enhance development, trade, and investment, including accelerating the implementation of the Partnership for Growth (PFG), which aims to promote sustained and inclusive growth in the Philippines as well as the Millennium Challenge Compact to reduce poverty in the Philippines.
The first-ever 2+2 Ministerial Consultations were a milestone in Philippine-U.S. relations.
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