WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States welcomed Tuesday a court ruling on the constitutionality of a defense pact with the Philippines, saying it would allow the allies to strengthen their maritime cooperation amid tensions with China in the disputed South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the two sides were discussing how to use the defense pact to deepen security ties. He described the Philippines as a critical ally as the U.S. looks to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific.
Carter spoke as the top diplomats and defense officials of the two nations met at the State Department, hours after the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that the enhanced defense cooperation agreement, which U.S. and Philippine officials signed in 2014, is constitutional. The pact will allows American forces, warships and planes to temporarily base in local military camps.
Carter said they would discuss "how we want to use that opportunity to strengthen our maritime security capabilities and our role in keeping a peaceful region, a region without divisions, without tensions, and a region where everyone has freedom to carry out their affairs, including commerce."
The Philippines has increasingly testy relations with China over their territorial dispute in the South China Sea, where six Asian governments are vying for control of small islands and shoals in seas that a thoroughfare for about one-third of world trade. The U.S. is looking to support the ill-equipped Philippine military and counter assertive Chinese action.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. has an "ironclad commitment" to the security of the Philippines, and that they shared a commitment to democracy and human rights.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the security interests of the allies are increasingly intertwined, and they should focus on building a credible defense posture and enhancing interoperability of their forces for territorial defense and maritime security, and for responding to humanitarian disasters.
None of U.S. or Philippine officials mentioned China by name.
Nearly a century of U.S. military presence in the Philippines ended in 1992 when Americans shut their bases, including the largest military facilities outside the U.S. mainland, after Filipino senators voted a year earlier not to renew the lease on the bases amid a tide of nationalism. But the Philippines territorial dispute has prompted Manila to reach out to Washington.