OHIO, USA - Republican Sen John McCain said he sees stronger military ties between Washington and Manila under a Romney presidency, particularly toward efforts to curb the aggressiveness of China in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute.
"We are looking at a rising China that is sparking confrontaton in the region, including with the government of the Philippines. Mitt Romney understands that. He understands the need of a strong and large American Navy," McCain told Rappler in an interview at the Republican Party headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
The presidential race between President Barack Obama and Romney is turning out to be a dead heat coming into the final weekend. Americans will vote for their next president on Tuesday, November 6 (Tuesday night, Manila time).
Often overlooked in past elections, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They make up around 5% of the US population but their numbers could surpass winning candidates' margins of victory in battleground states such as Virginia, Nevada, Florida and Colorado.
A recent survey in the US showed strong support for the Democrats from Americans of Chinese, Hmong, Japanese and Korean heritage. But Republicans enjoyed a slight edge among Filipino Americans, many of whom are devoutly Catholic, the same survey said.
"I hope they (Filipino-American voters) understand the commitment Romney has to strengthening our relationship, working together to counter this rising aggressiveness on the part of the Chinese, and strengthening the relationship between the US and the Philippines," added McCain, who was the Republican Party's standard bearer in the 2008 election that Obama won.
The senator earlier called for US support to the Philippines, America's key ally in the Asia-Pacific.
'Romney wants a relationship with China'
But senior American journalists closely watching the political career of Romney have doubts that a Romney presidency would adopt a different policy on the South China Sea dispute.
Politico's Bill Nichols said that whoever becomes president can only do so much in pushing for the interests of the Philippines against China.
"At the beginning, Romney has talked very tough on China. I tend to think that is all it is. At the end of the day the economic relationship with Beijing is so important that American Presidents are very much boxed in on what they can do on human rights or on issues like the island disputes you talk about," he said in an earlier briefing in Washington, D.C.
National Public Radio's senior Washington editor Ron Elving said it will highly depend on the appointee of Romney - if he wins as president - in the Asia desk, but he believes that he will prioritize Washington's economic relationship with Beijing.
"I think he (Romney) is going to be very interested in a relationship with China. And while he still cares about his relationship with the Philippines, everything will be seen in Asia largely in terms of the Chinese relations," said Elving, also in Washington.
"He is a lifelong businessman. He sees the word very much in business terms…. That may not be necessarily good news for the Philippines," Elving added.
'Obama will protect rights of small country'
The Republican Party has attacked Obama for supposedly neglecting the US military. "This president seems satisfied in the reduction of naval presence," said McCain.
McCain said cooperation between the US and the Philippines should not be interpreted as a signal for the return of US military bases in the Philippines. "It means joint operations with the Philippine military so we are prepared for any contingency in the Pacific, especially in south China sea," he said.
Former Ohio Gov Ted Strickland of the Democratic Party disagreed with McCain. He said Obama is just as supportive of Philippine interests.
"First of all, what he thinks is in the best interests of America and his primary obligation is to do what's best for the United States," Strickland told Rappler at the Democratic Party headquarters, also in Columbus, Ohio.
Strickland added: "But I also think that he is a person who is at his heart a humanitarian and wouldn't want a small country to be taken advantaged of by a larger country. The president is willing to stand for democracy and to stand with our friends. I think he has demonstrated that in several occasions." - Rappler.com
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