The United States’ top military official discussed boosting the poorly equipped Philippine armed forces in a meeting Monday with President Benigno Aquino, a presidential spokesman said.
Aquino and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, met in Manila amid a tense maritime territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.
“They talked about defence and security cooperation and the American (general) talked about providing us assistance on our minimum credible defence position,” Aquino’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, told reporters.
Aquino and Dempsey also discussed the Philippine-Chinese stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, Lacierda said, adding that the president had briefed Demsey on the “consultation” with China aimed at resolving the dispute.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that Dempsey stressed to Aquino that there should be a peaceful resolution of the dispute with no use of force.
Chinese and Philippine government ships have been in a standoff over Scarborough Shoal since April to press their respective claims to the area.
The Philippines claims the shoal falls within its exclusive economic zone while China claims it, along with virtually all of the South China Sea up to the coasts of its Asian neighbours.
The conflict has highlighted the weakness of the Philippine armed forces, which have no fighter jets and whose ships are mainly decades-old surplus vessels.
The US has previously pledged to increase military assistance to the Philippines in 2013 following meetings between the two countries’ cabinet members over the regional security situation.
However there was no firm US commitment to provide new weapons to the Philippine military, one of the weakest in the region, according to Lacierda.
Dempsey’s visit comes after US Pentagon chief Leon Panetta told a Singapore summit on Saturday that the United States will shift the bulk of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a new strategic focus on Asia.
The meeting took place just hours before Aquino left for a visit to Britain and the United States to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama.