Obama won't commit US against China

Posted at 04/28/2014 8:06 PM | Updated as of 04/28/2014 8:59 PM

MANILA - US President Barack Obama on Monday did not give a firm commitment to defend the Philippines if China attacks it over maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

Obama was asked twice if he will give the same commitment that he gave to Japan last week.

Japan, like the Philippines, is a treaty ally of the US, and both have maritime disputes with China.

Japan has the Senkaku Islands while the Philippines is in a tug of war over islands, shoals, and atolls in the West Philippine Sea.

"We welcome China’s peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China. There is enormous trade; enormous business that is done between the United States and China; So our goal is not to counter China; our goal is not to contain China," Obama said.

He added that the US does not take a specific position on the disputes between nations.

"But, as a matter of international law and international norms, we don't think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes. And for that reason, we’re very supportive of President Benigno’s approach to go before the tribunal for the law of the sea, and to seek international arbitration that can resolve this in a diplomatic fashion," Obama said.

"My hope is that, at some point, we’re going to be able to work cooperatively with China as well," he added.

China has rejected joining the arbitration case the Philippines filed before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

When asked if the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines will apply in case of war with China, Obama was also evasive.

"Our message to China consistently in a whole range of issues is we want be a partner with you in upholding international law. In fact, larger countries have a greater responsibility in abiding by international norms and rules because when we move, it can worry smaller countries if we don’t do it in a way that’s consistent with international law," he said.

A comparison of the language of the US treaties with Japan and the Philippines shows major differences.

Article 5 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan reads, "Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes."

Article 4 of the 1951 MDT between the Philippines and the US says, "Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes."

Article 5 of the MDT also says, "For purposes of ARTICLE IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific."

The maritime disputes between the Philippines and China covers areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) -- like the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, the Reed Bank and the Second Thomas Shoal.

China stakes its claims on a map drawn up by the Kuomintang, while the Philippines bases its claims on the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea and its exclusive economic zones.

'EDCA BEYOND CHINA'

Meantime, Obama also said that the newly signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) has very wide goals, beyond China.

"To engage in training, engage in coordination—not simply to deal with issues of maritime security, but also to enhance our capabilities so that if there’s a natural disaster that takes place, we are able to potentially respond more quickly. If there are additional threats that may arise, that we are able to work in a cooperative fashion."

Aquino, meanwhile, said China shouldn't take the agreement negatively.

“First of all, I think China shouldn’t be concerned about this agreement, especially if you look at what are being contemplated, for instance, training; for instance, in disaster relief operations. I think the statement that America has been making with regards to Ukraine is the same message that has been sent to China, and I guess not only by America but so many other countries," he said.

"China itself has said repeatedly that they will and have been conforming to international law and the rest of the world is, I think, saying ‘we are expecting to confirm by actions that which you have already been addressing by words’—and that is to adhere to international law."