Pacific News Minute: The President, The Philippines and The South China Sea
Earlier today, President Obama arrived in the Philippines to attend the APEC summit. While his earlier visit to Turkey and the G-20 summit was dominated by the ISIS attack in Paris, this next stop is more likely to focus on the disputes over the South China Sea. More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
A statue of a woman holding a dove stands at the old US Naval Base at Subic Bay, with a plaque that reads: "Unchain Us Now.” It was erected after the Philippines kicked US forces out in 1992. Before that, Subic Bay and nearby Clark Air Base were vital hubs of American power in the Western Pacific, and played a crucial part during the War in Vietnam.
Now, the Philippines would like the US to come back. While the country's Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it's constitutional - a 10 year agreement reached last year would allow the US to station troops, ships and aircraft at its old bases.
What's changed, is China's push into the South China Sea - waters locals call the West Philippines Sea. China and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the Spratley Islands and China has steadily pushed the Filipinos out of what they regard as their islands, and their fishing grounds. China is the strongest military power in the region - the Philippines, maybe the weakest. Some in the Philippines - especially on the left, object to any return of US forces and worry about how China might respond.
Last month the government applauded after a US destroyer challenged Chinese claims: last week, two B-52 bombers flew over the same general area, close enough to China's artificial islands to hear broadcast warnings. At China's insistence, APEC - an economic summit will make no mention of the security issue at or near the top of every member’s agenda.