Arroyo not to take sides in U.S.-PRC disputes

MANILA, Philippines, AP

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Tuesday her country is the United States’ best friend in Asia but that she won’t take sides in disputes between Washington and Beijing.

“We have been friends of the U.S. for a long time, probably their best friend in Asia,” Arroyo told her weekly news conference Tuesday.”We are also friends of China. We are urging them to settle their differences amicably.”

Arroyo made the comment when asked if the United States could use the Philippines as a “staging point” for military operations in Asia.

“While the Philippines has strategic advantages, we have our own self-interests to protect,” she added. “I don’t think (the U.S. and China) need a pawn.”

The Philippines was a major U.S. military outpost during the Cold War and at the outbreak of fighting in the Pacific during World War II.

The Philippine Senate in 1992 voted not to renew leases of military bases to the U.S. military, saying they brought crime and prostitution.

The government has made little comment amid diplomatic rows between the U.S. and mainland China, including the April collision between a U.S. EP-3E spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet.

Mainland China held the 24-member U.S. crew for 11 days after they made an emergency landing on Hainan Island in southern China.

A study released earlier this month by the Rand think tank says U.S. military strategy in Asia, which for decades has focused on Japan and North Korea, should shift south to better prepare for potential conflict over Taiwan.

Among other suggestions, the study said the U.S. could extend security cooperation with the Philippines, not necessarily to obtain permanent basing of U.S. forces but to allow frequent, rotating force deployments.