Saturday, 14 July 2012

Philippines may ask for U.S. spy planes over South China Sea

The Philippines may ask the United States to deploy spy planes over the South China Sea to help monitor the disputed waters, President Benigno Aquino told Reuters on Monday, a move that could worsen tensions with its giant neighbor China.
The two countries only recently stepped back from a months-long standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, a horseshoe shaped reef near the Philippines in waters they both claim – the latest round of naval brinkmanship over the resource-rich sea.
The United States has stressed it is neutral in the long-running maritime dispute, despite offering to help boost the Philippines’ decrepit military forces. China has warned that “external forces” should not get involved.
“We might be requesting overflights on that,” Aquino told Reuters in an interview, referring to U.S. P3C Orion spy planes. “We don’t have aircraft with those capabilities.”
There was no immediate comment from Washington.
Last month, Aquino pulled out a lightly armed coast guard ship and a fisheries boat due to bad weather around the Scarborough Shoal, a group of rock formations about 140 miles west of the main Philippine island of Luzon.
The South China Sea is potentially the biggest military flashpoint in Asia, and tensions have risen since the United States adopted a policy last year to reinforce its influence in the region.
At stake is control over what are believed to be significant reserves of oil and gas. Estimates for proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the entire sea range from 28 billion to as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a March 2008 report.
China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia have competing claims on the sea, but China’s claims encompass almost all its waters.
China said last week it had begun “combat-ready” patrols in waters it said were under its control in the South China Sea, after saying it “vehemently opposed” a Vietnamese law asserting sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands.
“We hope the Philippines will no longer issue information that provokes public opinion and avoid complicating the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters on Monday, responding to the Philippine military’s assertion that it could return to the Scarborough Shoal at any time.

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