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Friday, December 9, 2016

Kerry In Philippines To Propel Troop Deal As China Row Simmers

Manila (AFP) – Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Philippines Tuesday for a two-day trip that could fast-track a deal on expanding the U.S. military presence as a territorial dispute simmers with China.

Kerry flew to Manila as the two allies are in the final stages of hammering out a deal allowing more U.S. troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines, where the last U.S. bases closed in 1992.

He will also visit areas devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan last month, highlighting a massive U.S. humanitarian response to the disaster which contrasted with a modest contribution from regional power China.

“Kerry’s visit can be expected to act as a catalyst for change,” John Blaxland, a security and defence analyst at Australia National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, told AFP.

“He will be eager to leverage the visit to speed up and finalize arrangements and assure the Philippines and other regional powers that the U.S. is not just a fair-weather friend,” Blaxland said.

Kerry will meet with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and President Benigno Aquino later Tuesday to discuss ways for “broadening of economic and security cooperation”, the foreign department said.

“Humanitarian assistance and disaster response and cooperation on regional issues are also expected to be on the agenda,” it said in a statement. The United States, the former colonial power in the Philippines, has been the greatest contributor of aid following the typhoon which left nearly 8,000 dead or missing, and four million people homeless.

Washington deployed an aircraft carrier group and committed 1,000 Marines and $20 million in a mobilization that served as a preview of the deal’s intensified defense engagement.

Beijing meanwhile drew scorn with an initial offer of just $100,000 to the Philippines, a Washington ally with which it is locked in a dispute over sovereignty of islands in the strategically vital South China Sea.

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