Philippines seeks stronger commitment from U.S. in South China Sea dispute

MAY 26 (Reuters) — The Philippines is seeking a “stronger commitment” from the United States to help its ally, its defense minister said on Monday (May 25), as China asserts its sovereignty over disputed areas of the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

China said on Monday it had lodged a complaint with the United States over a U.S. spy plane that flew over parts of the disputed South China Sea in a diplomatic row that has fueled tension between the world’s two largest economies.

Philippines Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin told journalists during the Philippine Navy anniversary held at a naval base south of Manila that he would meet U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday (May 27) in Hawaii to ask for a stronger commitment.

He said Beijing’s recent actions in the South China Sea have become a cause of concern.

“It’s like that they (China) are taking control over the airspace like the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone). Although there’s nothing formal yet, it’s going towards that direction, so it’s a cause of concern,” Gazmin said.

A senior military official told Reuters that Gazmin would ask Washington to provide second-hand planes, ships and coastal radar systems.

Next week, Gazmin will join President Benigno Aquino on a three-day visit to Tokyo to discuss the rising tension in the South China Sea.

He said the two sides would also discuss the transfer of Japanese military equipment to the Philippines to boost maritime security.