The announcement by President Barack Obama that he plans to station U.S. troops in Australia is drawing mixed reactions at the ASEAN Summit in Indonesia, where ongoing territorial conflicts in the South China Sea are a major issue.
Philippine Secretary of Communications Ricky Carandang welcomed the news that the United States will station 2,500 military personnel in its Australia's Northern Territory over the next few years.
“If you are asking me in general how I view the increased engagement of the U.S. in Australia and the region, we view the presence of the Americans here, the renewed engagement of the U.S. here as ultimately a stabilizing force,” Carandang said.
The Philippines has long supported an increased U.S. military presence to counterbalance China's growing military strength and increasing confrontations in disputed territory of the South China Sea.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei hold conflicting territorial claims on the region, which is strategic to world shipping and believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves.
ASEAN Chairman and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Indonesia does not want to see Southeast Asia be subject to a damaging competition between the big countries, adding that idealism will only get them so far.
Natalegawa also said he would like to develop a military code of conduct, in line with ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, or TAC, which calls for mutual respect and the non-interference in the internal affairs of other members.
“For example it will involve the renunciation of the use of force the primacy of peaceful settlements of disputes, precisely the kind of TAC-like kind of norms that have been governing relations among ASEAN.”
Hariyadi Wirawan, a professor of international relations at the University of Indonesia, says the news could lead to increased tension between the United States and China at the East Asia Summit and could hamper efforts by ASEAN leaders to craft a code of conduct with China to peacefully resolve disputes.
“The whole idea of creating this new arrangement of security is in itself, can be seen also as a provocation to China and will expect a kind of harsh response from China, from Beijing,” Wirawan said.
Chinese officials Wednesday questioned whether the troop deployments are in the best interests of the countries in the region. In Beijing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin gave a more measured response when asked about the U.S.-Australia military ties.
In regards to the relationships developed between other nations, China does not interfere, he said.
But he added China hopes that other countries in developing relations between each other take into consideration other countries, regional interests and the region's peace and stability.