China calls for peace amid US-Philippine military drills

Posted at 05/05/14 8:28 PM

BEIJING - China on Monday urged all sides to make constructive efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region as the Philippines and US kicked off joint military exercises.

Thousands of Filipino and American soldiers began annual war games on Monday, the first under a new security pact with the United States, focusing on maritime security in the face of China's growing naval presence in the disputed South China Sea.

The joint exercises "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) would test the combat readiness of the two oldest allies in this part of the world to respond to any maritime threats, including piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The new security pact was signed last week just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama visited. Obama said the agreement was a testament to Washington's "pivot" to Asia and was an "ironclad" commitment to defend the Philippines.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about the exercises, said that all sides need to work "constructively" to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific.

"We think maintaining peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region is in line with the joint efforts of all the relevant parties. At the same time, all sides should make constructive efforts and play constructive roles. We hope that the relevant U.S.- Philippine activities can work in this direction as well," Hua told a daily briefing in Beijing.

Under a new security pact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed last week during Obama's visit, the US will have wider access to local bases and construct facilities to store supplies and equipment for 10-years in exchange for increased support on maritime security and humanitarian assistance.

The annual war games come under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, part of a web of security alliances the United States built in the Asia-Pacific region during the Cold War.

The Philippines has territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which is said to be rich in deposits of oil and gas and carry about $5 billion in ship-borne trade every year. The Spratlys in the South China Sea are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.