China harshly criticized the Philippine Supreme Court’s backing of a defense pact allowing American forces, warships, and planes to be based temporarily in local military camps, with an editorial in state media Wednesday calling the move “stupid” and warning of consequences.
The strongly-worded editorial of the official Xinhua News Agency said the agreement would “only escalate tensions and undermine peace and stability in the region.” Manila “appears to be now turning to Uncle Sam to back its ambition to counter China,” the article said, employing an old symbol that calls the Cold War to mind.
The court’s ruling Tuesday, declaring the pact constitutional, bolsters U.S. efforts to reassert its presence in Asia and dovetails with Philippine desires for American help in countering China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Washington immediately welcomed the court’s decision, saying the defense pact will bolster both countries’ ability to respond to disasters and strengthen the Philippines’ military.
Xinhua dismissed such assertions as attempts to rationalize an ill-advised move. “Manila has to bear the negative consequences of its stupid move in the future,” it said.
Su Hao, an international relations expert at China Foreign Affairs University, said Washington is likely to have engineered the court’s decision to uphold the pact, a claim also made by Xinhua without offering evidence.
Filipino leftists opposed the decision and have said they will consider filing an appeal.
China responded almost immediately by ramping up its presence in the South China Sea, including areas claimed by the Philippines. Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the strategically vital sea through which around $5 trillion in world trade passes each year.
Tensions have been especially high since Beijing transformed seven disputed reefs into islands on which it is now constructing runways and facilities that rival claimants say can be used militarily.
The Philippines accused China of using flashing lights and flares to challenge Philippine military flights over the contested Spratly Islands and protested recent test flights by China to its newly built island airstrips.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected the Philippine protest at a briefing Thursday, saying China was operating completely within its rights. “The Philippines’ accusation is out of ulterior motives and is not worth a comment,” Hong said.
Su said China may feel compelled to respond by boosting its own military presence in the region, in which both its navy and coast guard operate constantly.
“It may lead to the direct military confrontation in the South China Sea between China and the United States, therefore having a negative impact on the current situation of the region,” Su said.
Nearly a century of U.S. military presence in the Philippines ended in 1992 when, amid a tide of nationalism, Filipino senators voted not to renew the leases on American bases. As a result, Manila has been turning to Washington in recent years, in a scramble to strengthen its own military – one of the worst-equipped in Asia.