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U.S., Philippines sign defense treaty, annoy China

President Obama arrives in the Philippines on Monday, the last stop on his tour through Asia
President Obama arrives in the Philippines on Monday, the last stop on his tour through Asia

On Monday morning, Washington and Manila signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, giving “U.S. planes, warships and troops more access to the archipelagic nation” for the next decade. Before the ink was dry on this controversial contract, an editorial appeared on China’s Xinhua and People’s Daily, the official news outlets of the state-controlled media, vividly denouncing U.S. involvement in the region and warning the Philippines against “further provocation.”

“Washington is fully aware that there is no easy fix to Asia's current slew of problems, and that the best way to solve them is to leave them to those countries directly involved,” Shang Jun wrote in an article for Xinhua that appeared on People's Daily. “Given that the Philippines is at a bitter territorial row with China, the move is particularly disturbing.”

Meanwhile, President Obama blatantly refuted any claims that the U.S. aims to challenge China. “Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected and that includes in the area of international disputes,” he said in a joint press conference at the presidential palace in Manila on Monday.

As much as Obama has tried to avoid China during his week-long tour through Asia, Beijing’s shadow touches all corners of the region. While the treaty with the Philippines lends some credibility to Obama’s promise of a “pivot” towards Asia — instilling confidence in this pivot was the main reason for the trip — it also signals “unwanted interference” to the Chinese, who are busy waging geopolitical battles throughout the East and South China seas.

That U.S. political and military involvement in China's backyard threatens the latter's regional dominance makes sense — as the Chinese saying goes, two tigers cannot share one mountain. But the closing line of the Xinhua editorial offers a much more cryptic outlook, at once an invitation for Sino-U.S. cooperation and a bold warning to Washington to mind its own business.

“The Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both the United States and China,” the article states. “As the world's two largest economies, they can help build a better future in Asia through cooperation.
 Bearing that in mind, Washington should be wary of an emboldened Manila.”

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