US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assured Gazmin during talks in Manila on Wednesday that Washington would give its longtime ally a second Coast Guard cutter virtually for free sometime next year.
The first second-hand cutter from the US Coast Guard sailed into Manila in August and became the most modern vessel in the dilapidated Philippine fleet. Clinton assured the Philippine military of intensified US assistance Wednesday when the allies marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of their Mutual Defense Treaty aboard a US naval destroyer in Manila.
Gazmin said he and Foreign Sec. Albert del Rosario would meet Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon headquarters in January to discuss America’s assistance, including a Manila request for a third Coast Guard cutter.
During his Wednesday meeting with Clinton and other US officials, Gazmin said he told them the Philippines would try to bolster its defense capability on its own but appreciated the help in case of any emergency in the volatile South China Sea.
“We will stand alone as much as possible,” Gazmin told The Associated Press. “But when push comes to shove, it’s reassuring somebody is behind us.”
China and the Philippines, along with Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei have been contesting ownership of the potentially oil-rich Spratlys, which straddle international sea lanes. All have stationed combat troops on islands and reefs they claim, except for Brunei.
The Philippines and Vietnam have accused Chinese government vessels of repeatedly intruding into their claimed territories in the Spratlys and of disrupting oil explorations in their territorial waters in the first half of the year.
Last year, the Indonesian navy came close to a shooting encounter with Chinese vessels, which strayed into waters off Jakarta’s Natuna island gas field near the South China Sea. Indonesian officials played down the incident as an intrusion by ordinary fishermen unrelated to the South China Sea dispute.
China’s claim over virtually the entire South China Sea, which Beijing first made public in 2009 before the United Nations, appears to overlap with Indonesia’s territorial waters off Natuna. China has not detailed the limits of South China Sea claim, according to maritime experts.