THE head of the United States Air Force said over the weekend that the Philippines needs to recapitalize its capability amid the increasing Chinese intrusions in the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
General Norton A. Schwartz, chief of staff of the US Air Force, met with his counterpart Philippine Air Force chief Oscar Ravena and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to give an assessment of the Philippines air force capability.
“We attempted to make a commitment [to provide capacity upgrade], but its for the armed forces of the Philippines to look into its [specific] needs,” said Schwartz in an interview during a dinner hosted by US Ambassador Harry Thomas in his residence in Forbes Park, Makati.
“There is a recognition that the air force [of the Philippines] needs to be recapitalized. [But] its going to take years to acquire the systems,” he said.
General Schwartz said the US Air Force, under the mandate of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines, remains committed to conduct training on logistics, tactics and techniques.
He said Ravena, during their meeting, raised the Philippines’ concern on the increasing military presence and activities of Chinese forces.
Schwartz said the US goverment stands ready to interact with the Philippines “at many levels” and these include various military training programs.
He said the US can be helpful in providing the Philippines with maritime surveillance systems to patrol the waters of the South China Sea as part of protecting its claims in some disputed islands there.
Two groups of islands in the South China Sea—Spratlys and Paracels—are being claimed in whole by China while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan are claiming parts of these islands.
Schwartz stressed that the disputes in the South China Sea can be resolved “collaboratively in a fair and peaceful way” by claimant countries.
The US Air Force chief sided with the Philippines’ stand that the disputes should be resolved peacefully based on the United Nations Convention on the Laws of Sea without resorting to coercion.
China has been refusing to deal with the disputes issue at the multilateral level and instead resort to bilateral negotiations with the individual claimant countries.
Beijing has also refused to be a party to a disputes case that the Philippines is planning to file before the Hamburg-based International Tribunal on the Laws of the Seas.
“The US believes that these matters of territorial claims should be resolved peacefully based on the law of the sea protocol and without resorting to coercion,” said Schwartz.
He said it is “ understandable” that the Philippines is seriously elevating its protests in various regional and international fora, recently at the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) held in Bali but maintained that these issues must be “resolved through diplomacy.”