Clinton in Philippines to renew alliance

Shaun Tandon
US Secretary Hillary Clinton (C) waves to the media as she arrives at the Manila International Airport. Clinton on Wednesday vowed support for the Philippines amid its high-seas territorial tensions with China, delivering her message from a US warship in Manila Bay

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans Wednesday to announce efforts to support the Philippine military and economy, seeking to step up ties with a historic ally that is wary of a rising China.

In a show of solidarity with the Philippines, Clinton will tour a visiting US Navy destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, to mark the 60th anniversary of a US security treaty with its former colony, officials said.

Clinton will later Wednesday head to Thailand -- the only other treaty-bound US ally in Southeast Asia -- to offer US assistance as the politically divided country copes with massive flooding that is threatening the capital Bangkok.

The trip comes just as US President Barack Obama pays a long-awaited visit to Australia where he is expected to announce greater military cooperation, part of what the administration calls a renewed focus on Asia.

Clinton, speaking last week in Hawaii where Obama welcomed leaders of 20 other Pacific Rim economies, said that the United States had reached a "pivot point" as it winds down its costly decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We now can redirect some of those investments to opportunities and obligations elsewhere. And Asia stands out as a region where opportunities abound," Clinton said in a speech at the East-West Center.

The US military presence is sensitive in the Philippines and in recent years cooperation has largely been kept low-profile with a focus on fighting Islamic extremists in its southern Mindanao region.

"We will continue those efforts in the south, but we are focusing more on maritime capabilities," a senior State Department official who is travelling with Clinton said on condition of anonymity.

The official said that Clinton would also sign an agreement with the Philippines on the so-called Partnership for Growth, a US initiative that looks at ways to encourage the next wave of emerging economies.

While the announcement would have few immediate effects, the agreement is expected to instruct US government agencies to work with the Philippines to develop ways to boost exports and enhance US investment.

China's rapid growth has caused alarm in neighbouring countries, with the Philippines and Vietnam saying that Beijing has become increasingly forceful over disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The Philippines has charged that Chinese forces have opened fire on Filipino fishermen, shadowed an oil exploration vessel employed by a Philippine firm and put up structures in areas claimed by the Philippines.

The Philippines has troops on some of the disputed Spratly islands, but it has the weakest military forces in the region with ships mostly handed down from US forces in World War II and no fighter aircraft.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, whom Clinton will meet on Wednesday, has pledged to upgrade the military. The official accompanying Clinton said the United States was looking at providing a second destroyer to the Philippines.

The Philippines has also sought to build a united front among Southeast Asian nations ahead of an East Asia Summit later this week on the Indonesian island of Bali.

In Thailand, Clinton is expected to hold talks late Wednesday with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who took office in August and has immediately faced the daunting challenge of the floods.

Yingluck is the sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup that set off chaos in the kingdom. Washington has been concerned that instability in its oldest Asian ally would pose new challenges for its Asia policy.

The State Department official said Clinton hoped to deliver a message to the Thai leaders and people that "it is in the national security and political interest of the United States to have this government succeed."