WHITE HOUSE - Philippine President Benigno Aquino meets with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday. Regional security issues and the Philippines' role in a U.S. re-balancing of strategic priorities toward the Asia-Pacific will be high on the agenda.
It will be the Philippine leader's first Oval Office meeting with Obama. The two met last year at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
(APEC) summit in Hawaii, and again in Bali on the sidelines of the East Asia summit.
The Philippines is the oldest of five U.S. treaty allies in Asia. The two countries are joined in a Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951. U.S. military bases in the Philippines were closed in the early 1990s.
Major concerns for Manila include strengthening naval and air defenses, amid ongoing tensions with China over energy and fishing rights in the South China Sea, and continued U.S. help in dealing with militant Islamist insurgents.
The United States takes no position on South China Sea rivalries, but encourages countries in the area, including rival claimants, to resolve disputes through a "code of conduct" being developed with China's participation.
In a Wall Street Journal
interview published on the eve of his White House talks, President Aquino said that although tensions had eased somewhat, they have implications for other countries in the region.
The White House talks take place as the United States implements a new security strategy establishing the Asia-Pacific as a top priority.
President Obama announced a key aspect of this last year, a U.S. - Australian agreement involving rotation of U.S. Marines through the port of Darwin. The U.S. and the Philippines are discussing a similar arrangement.
Ernest Bower, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
, (CSIS) says the United States and the Philippines are broadening military and security cooperation.
"Additional military equipment that they may need, I think we're going to send another naval cutter, a military ship to the Philippines. We will work to try to support their military modernization," Bower said. "We’re going to double our support for their defense budget to $30 million. And I think there will be some discussion about whether the rotational access agreement that we have with Australia might apply to the Philippines in the future."
A senior administration official said President Aquino's visit should be seen in the context of the U.S. defense "re-balancing" toward the region, noting U.S.-Philippine cooperation in maritime security, and counter-terrorism.
Another official said the Philippines is pursuing cooperation with the United States and its military in ways "that are consistent" with a constitutional prohibition on the stationing of foreign troops on its territory.
The official pointed to U.S. support for counter-terrorism efforts, joint military exercises, and what he called expanding rotational training and capacity-building programs as part of a "robust" military-to-military relationship.
The two presidents are expected to review results of a bilateral strategic dialogue. And officials said Obama will also reiterate support for good governance efforts in the Philippines and discuss regional economic integration.
The day before his White House talks with President Obama, President Aquino had wide-ranging meetings in Washington including with members of the U.S. Congress.
Before he goes to the White House, President Aquino will attend a lunch in his honor hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.