Obama boards PHL Navy flagship, vows to donate two more ships
US President Barack Obama went straight to a Philippine navy ship shortly after his arrival in the country, in a move that may be seen as a challenge to China's avoidance of the issue in the ongoing APEC Summit in Manila.
Obama made the remark just as the White House announced that the US would provide $259 million worth of maritime security assistance to its Southeast Asian allies, amid China's island-building in the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippines, accoring to the statement, will get the lion's share with $79 million worth of aid to boost maritime secuity.
Obama described the US alliance with the Philippines as "unbreakable" and announced that the US would donate two more ships to the Philippines.
"We have a shared commitment. The US commits to the security of the region," Obama said.
The Del Pilar, a Hamilton class cutter, was a vessel of the US Coast Guard before it was donated to and commissioned by the Philippine Navy a few years back.
Obama said one of the ships that the US would donate would help map territorial waters while the other would be for long-endurance patrols.
He said the latter vessel was part of a larger plan to increase military assistance to allies in the region.
The US' announcement of pledges of support to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia came shortly after Obama arrived in Manila ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
The White House said the US would commit $119 million this financial year, with another $140 million earmarked for the following 12 months.
"We are increasing the maritime security capacity of our allies and partners to respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region," the statement said.
The Philippines, one of Washington's most loyal allies in Asia and one of the fiercest critics of China's actions in the South China Sea, will get the most support.
The Philippines will receive a record $79 million in assistance to bolster maritime security, the statement said.
The United States will "grant" the Philippines another US Coast Guard cutter, according to the statement.
The Philippines acquired two similar US Coast Guard cutters in 2011 and 2013, which became top warships in its poorly funded Navy.
The terms of deal of the United States providing the latest cutter were not detailed in Tuesday's statement.