Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Asian war feared over Spratlys row

By Redempto Anda
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Puerto Princesa—Longtime allies the Philippines and the United States launched naval exercises on Tuesday amid warnings that growing incidents at sea involving China could lead to war in Asia.

Two state-of-the-art US missile destroyers sailed into Philippine waters to kick-start the 11 days of training, being held in the wake of regional tensions caused by territorial rivalries in the West Philippine (South China) Sea.

The exercises, called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat), will actually take place in the Sulu Sea.

Both the Philippines and United States emphasized the training was an annual one aimed at strengthening defense ties, and not linked to the rising concern in Manila about allegedly aggressive Chinese actions in the potentially resource-rich Spratly Islands.

“Carat was planned in advance… the issue in the South China Sea started in February,” Philippine Navy vice commander Rear Adm. Orwen Corez said at the opening ceremony. “Carat has nothing to do with the issue.”

Nevertheless, the exercises were portrayed as a show of unity between the Philippines and its former colonial ruler.

‘Enduring commitment’

“The US and the Philippines are allies and that is the strongest and most enduring commitment the two nations can make,” the commander of the US 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, said.

“Our alliance is underpinned by a deep and abiding US interest in the freedom and security of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Buskirk stressed the exercise “has nothing to do with the Spratlys.”

He said it was the second such exercise held by the two allies “but this situation is more complex.” He did not elaborate.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony took place at a military base in Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan province, a narrow island that divides the West Philippine Sea and the Sulu Sea.

About 800 US sailors are involved, as well as the two guided missile destroyers and a salvage ship. They will join a Philippine fleet of mainly World War II-era ships.

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