This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
As US President Barack Obama descended on the Philippines, Manila and Washington were rushing to complete negotiations on an Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC) between the two countries.
The Philippines’ territorial disputes with China are one major reason for this new agreement. With Washington’s help, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III wants to make the Chinese respect the Philippines’ claims in the Scarborough Shoal, the Spratly Islands, the continental shelf and its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The truth of the matter, however, is that the deal will do no such thing.
What the agreement boils down to is that the Philippines will give the United States the right to operate bases in the country—for no rent—without the guarantee of US protection of the Philippines’ island territories.
A Raw Deal
According to Philippine officials, the new agreement is governed by the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which they say obliges Washington to come to the Philippines’ defense in the event of an attack on Philippine territory, including its possessions in the West Philippine Sea. Here they cite Article V of the MDT, which says “an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific, or on its armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific.”
That is not the way the United States sees it. Indeed, the US government has not deviated from the position explicitly stated several years ago by Morton Smith, a US Embassy spokesperson. According to researcher Roland San Juan, Smith asserted that the Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines are excluded from the scope of the treaty because the Philippines raised its claim to them more than three decades after the MDT was signed in 1951.
This is in contrast to Washington’s implicit support for Japan in its territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. “I restated the principles that govern longstanding US policy on the Senkaku Islands and other islands,” US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said of his April visit to Beijing. “We affirmed that since [the Senkaku Islands] are under Japan’s administrative control, they fall under Article 5 of our Mutual Security Treaty.” Article V of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty provides that “an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”