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US military presence needed in Asia, Philippines' foreign minister says

US military presence needed in Asia, Philippines' foreign minister says

A Filipino fisherman sails off at sunset from the coast of Bacnotan, La Union province in northwestern Philippines facing the South China Sea, the source of major international disputes. (Photo: AFP/Romeo Gacad)

MANILA: The United States' military presence in Asia is needed as rivalry between Washington and Beijing intensifies, the Philippines' foreign minister said on Wednesday (Aug 26).

The two powers are arguing over issues from trade to what the United States sees as aggressive moves by China's armed forces, especially in the disputed South China Sea and around Chinese-claimed Taiwan.

"We have a balance of power situation," Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said in an interview with ANC News Channel. "We need the US presence in Asia."

The United States has long opposed China's territorial claims on the South China Sea, regularly sending warships to demonstrate freedom of navigation there.

It hardened its position last month by rejecting Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, a move which China condemned.

Locsin said it would be in the Philippines' interest for the United States to maintain its military presence in the region and he reiterated the country "never stopped cooperation" with its long-time security ally.

READ: Philippines minister accuses China of fabricating sea claims

In June, President Rodrigo Duterte suspended his decision to scrap a two decade-old troop deployment agreement with the United States that has given the Philippines access to scores of annual training exercises, including expertise in tackling militants and maritime threats.

The US military also formerly had two huge military bases in the Philippines – Subic Bay and Clark – but was evicted from them in 1992.

The two countries revived close ties from 2000 with war games, frequent visits and by helping against communist and Muslim insurgents.

The Philippines has lodged several diplomatic protests against what it sees as provocative Chinese activities in the disputed sea, the latest filed against what it said was China's illegal confiscation of equipment from Filipino fishermen in a disputed lagoon.

"I was very firm about protecting what was ours. I was very firm about never bending a knee to China," Locsin said.

China claims historic ownership of most of the South China Sea using old maps that it says are proof of sovereignty. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.

Vietnam on Wednesday accused China of violating its sovereignty by conducting military drills in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

But while affirming the need for American military presence in the region, Philippines' Locsin said he would welcome economic opportunities offered by China.

Source: Reuters/dv


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