LA JOLLA – Despite China’s historic ties to the Philippines, the two countries are now locked in an escalating dispute over the South China Sea.
China told its citizens on May 10 that they are not safe in the Philippines and state media warned of war as a month-long dispute over the South China Sea threatened to spin out of control.
“The political relationship is very challenged because China claims the entire South China Sea,” the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry K. Thomas Jr., said at a May 7 presentation at the Institute of the Americas.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea — which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas reserves — as its territory, even waters close to the coasts of the Philippines and other Asian countries.
The United States, which closed its last naval base in the Philippines in 1992, is not likely to intervene in the dispute. On the question of reopening U.S. military bases in the Philippines, Thomas was emphatic.
“We don’t bases. We don’t need bases. We are not asking for bases. I’m very serious about that,” he said. “Bases are not what we want, need or ask for.”[inset side=right] “We would like for the Philippines to be one of the Asian tigers,” Thomas said.[/inset]
As China and the Philippines dig in for a protracted dispute over the rights to the Sea, Thomas said China is becoming a larger trading partner for the Philippines. China is not the Philippines’ largest trading partner, but there is an extensive andlong-standing economic relationship between the Philippines and Taiwan, Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China.
Thomas predicted that “China will continue to expand its economic relationship with the Philippines.”
While political tensions grow between China and the Philippines, Thomas noted that the U.S.-Philippines relationship is “broad and deep.”
“Filipinos, like Americas, love democracy, freedom of speech. That love of democracy, freedom of speech, those are the things that bind us,” Thomas said.
The “Achilles heel, our great concern, is economic trade,” he said. Trade between the United States and the Philippines is down about 20 percent due to the tsunami and quake that struck Japan last year and disrupted the global semiconductor industry.
Still, the Philippines is the Unites States’ 30th largest trading partner, and is the 12th largest trading partner for food and beverage.
President Obama selected the Philippines as one of four countries for enhanced economic development. “We would like for the Philippines to be one of the Asian tigers,” Thomas said.