(UPDATED) MANILA, Philippines – The United States will beef up the Philippines' maritime security by helping it build a new National Coast Watch Center, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday, June 9, during a luncheon for President Benigno Aquino III.
Clinton hosted the luncheon as part of Aquino's official visit to Washington DC. The visit took place amid the Philippines' ongoing standoff with China over Scarborough Shoal, which is located in the South China Sea.
The United States will help build the coast watch center, among others, as part of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries, according to Clinton.
“As I’ve said many times, the United States does not take a position on the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But we do, however, have a clear interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea,” she said. (Watch more in the video below courtesy of the US State Department)
By definition, a National Coast Watch Center implements and coordinates maritime security operations under the National Coast Watch System (NCWS). Established through an executive order (EO) by Aquino, the NCWS is an interagency mechanism “for a coordinated and coherent approach on maritime issues.” (Read Aquino's EO below.)
Clinton added she welcomes Aquino's initial steps to defuse the tension in Scarborough Shoal, noting that the US opposes “the use of force or coercion by any claimant to advance its claims.” She said the US is monitoring the situation closely.
“And we encourage continued diplomatic dialogue and further efforts to lessen tension, to disengage, and to resolve the situation peacefully,” Clinton said.
She also urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China to conclude their efforts to craft a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
In his response to Clinton, Aquino highlighted the enduring partnership between the two countries.
“We are clearly at a new junction in our relations. While we both remain grounded in our shared history and in the democratic principles and values we both hold, our success is also about what we can do together – to build a more stable region and to achieve an even more prosperous future for both our people,” Aquino said.
“I see a very rewarding future ahead of us as we work on the different elements that comprise our partnership, such as our ties in defense and security, in our economies and amongst our peoples,” the President added.
After the luncheon hosted by Clinton, Aquino met with US President Barack Obama and discussed with him the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes. (Read: Obama backs Philippines on sea freedom.)
Two days earlier, Aquino said he prefers not to drag other countries in the Philippines' ongoing dispute with China as a sign of “goodwill.” This was a departure from previous statements that international attention is the Philippines' best “weapon” in the ongoing tension.