WHITE HOUSE - President Barack Obama and Philippine President Benigno Aquino discussed Asian security issues as they met at the White House Friday. The United States is working to raise its profile in the Asia-Pacific region, in the face of growing Chinese influence.
Regional security was one of the main issues addressed in President Aquino’s first visit to the Oval Office.
With China becoming more assertive in the region, the U.S. is seeking to strengthen its Asian alliances, while the Philippines is looking for help in bolstering its naval and air defenses.
Washington hopes to balance its strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region with the need for China’s cooperation on many key issues.
After the meeting, President Obama said he and Mr. Aquino agreed to consult closely on regional issues and to strengthen their cooperation on military training.
“All of which is consistent with the announced pivot by the United States back to Asia, and reminding everybody that, in fact, the United States considers itself and is a Pacific power,” Obama said.
A White House statement says Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for the Philippines’ effort to strengthen its defenses. Washington recently transferred a second U.S. Coast Guard cutter to the Philippines.
The United States and the Philippines have had a Mutual Defense Treaty since 1951, the oldest of five U.S. treaty alliances in Asia.
Ernest Bower, director of the Southeast Asia Program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that alliance is particularly important to the Philippines.
“They are in a standoff with China at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. I think they really appreciate the support that the United States is providing them to try to build up their military capabilities and a credible deterrent,” Bower said.
Philippine and Chinese vessels have been engaged in a two-month standoff in the disputed shoal, although Mr. Aquino has said the tensions have eased somewhat.
Bower says the U.S. has been advocating a peaceful solution.
“The United States wants to see disputes resolved peacefully, of course, and based on the rule of law. And so I think we have encouraged the Philippines and the Chinese to use the legal mechanisms in the Law of the Sea, and see if they can apply those legal frameworks to resolve the dispute,” Bower said.
President Obama recognized Aquino’s commitment to peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
He also praised the Philippine leader’s efforts to reduce corruption and improve his country’s economy.