(Updates with Chinese Foreign Ministry response in second paragraph.)
Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged the U.S. will bolster the Philippines’ naval defenses as its Southeast Asian ally presses China to back off claims in disputed waters rich in oil and gas.
A defense treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines needs to be upgraded, a move that will require providing “greater support for external defense, particularly maritime domain awareness,” Clinton said today in Manila. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said outside involvement only complicates the dispute over the South China Sea.
“External forces’ intervention is not beneficial to solving the problem,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a briefing in Beijing. “It will complicate the problem and increase the difficulty of the problem.”
Clinton spoke hours before President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a defense agreement that will deploy American Marines at Australian bases next year. Clinton and Obama both pledged sustained leadership in the Asia-Pacific, with Clinton saying it was important for the U.S. to assert that it’s a power in the region.
“Our goal is to try to work with our partners like the Philippines to make sure that everyone is growing in a balanced way and that there isn’t kind of a big thumb on the scale, if you will, that pushes development or strategic issues like what happens in the oceans one way or another,” she said in response to a question at a town hall meeting about China’s influence in the region.
The U.S. is working with the Philippines to improve its ability to cope with maritime challenges, an Obama administration official told reporters yesterday en route to Manila. Measures include providing a second destroyer to Benigno Aquino’s government after selling one in May, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Speaking with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Clinton said there is no room for intimidation in resolving maritime claims in the South China Sea. While the Obama administration takes no position on the claims of various countries in the area, any resolution must be peaceful, she said.
The Philippine government seeks a peaceful resolution to the disputed claims in the South China Sea, del Rosario said. In June, the U.S. Navy conducted joint exercises with the Philippines off Palawan Island.
Speaking yesterday, del Rosario called for Southeast Asian leaders to play a “decisive role” in brokering a resolution with China over disputed areas of the South China Sea. He said the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations should facilitate talks between claimants with the eventual goal of establishing a Joint Cooperation Area.
The bloc is meeting in Bali this week for a regional summit that will include Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
--With assistance from Regina Tan in Beijing. Editor: Nicholas Wadhams,Patrick Harrington.
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