U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced $40 million in new military aid to the Philippines, a longtime U.S. ally involved in a territorial dispute with China.
Kerry made the announcement Tuesday in Manila, where he is meeting with Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and President Benigno Aquino.
The aid will help improve the Philippines' maritime defense capabilities and boost counterterrorism operations against a Muslim insurgency in the south.
It comes on top of a $32 million package announced Monday to help Southeast Asian countries protect their territorial waters, including $18 million for Vietnam.
Kerry said the increased aid is not aimed at countering rising Chinese assertiveness, though he warned against all sides making "provocative" moves.
He also repeated U.S. opposition to China's new Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, which includes disputed areas claimed by Japan.
"We have not taken a position on the particular claims asserted by anybody, we have taken a position in a way we think it should be resolved. So we support arbitration, we support the rule of law. We do not support unilateral actions that have the impact of being provocative and raising the temperature in the potential conflict.
Kym Bergmann, editor of both the Australia-based Asia/Pacific Defense Reporter and Defense Review Asia, says the U.S. aid to ASEAN members is a significant development.
"Not because of the amount of money, which is quite small by defense procurement terms. But what it represents is that the United States is further bolstering its position in Southeast Asia and with those countries bordering the South China Sea. And I think the view from Beijing of this will not be a positive one. That they will see it as yet another part of an effort by the United States to encircle them and to push back against what are clearly their aspirations in the area."
Kerry also hopes to use his meetings with Philippines leaders to make progress on a deal allowing more U.S. troops, aircraft and ships to pass through the country.
Carl Thayer, an Australian-based consultant and professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales, says Secretary Kerry's trip to the Philippines could lead to closer defense ties and follows the massive U.S. humanitarian response following last month's super typhoon (Haiyan).
"Key [Philippine] ministers, Secretary del Rosario for example, said the U.S. response [to typhoon Haiyan] was precisely why the Philippines needed a larger U.S. rotational presence, not tied to the annual exercise series. ... But to be there for natural disaster, humanitarian assistance response."
He added that the stumbling block to a deal with Manila is Philippine access to facilities built by the U.S. for temporary use and equipment brought into the Philippines for mutually agreed purposes.
On Wednesday, Kerry will tour areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people and prompted a massive, military-led humanitarian response by the United States.
The U.S. sent an aircraft carrier group, a thousand Marines, and spent millions of dollars to help its former colony recover from the typhoon, an effort many analysts said could help lead to closer defense ties.