Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Philippines, Indonesia Take U.S. F-16 Decision in Stride

Jimmy Hitipeuw | Rabu, 21 September 2011 | 07:02 WIB
APA Lockheed Martin F16 Jet fighter performs during a demonstration flight at the 49th Paris Air Show at le Bourget airport, east of Paris, Saturday June 25, 2011. - The Philippines and Indonesia shook off any concerns over a U.S. decision to forgo selling new fighter jets to Taiwan, despite fears it could signal a reduction in American support for the region as China expands its military power.
The U.S. decision, reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal, means the Obama administration will upgrade Taiwan's 146 Lockheed Martin F-16 A/B jets rather than selling it 66 new C/D models that the island has been seeking since 2006, according to a congressional official.
Southeast Asian officials were watching the outcome closely to see how the U.S. would balance its growing commercial relationship with China with its commitment to help defend Taiwan against possible aggression from China.
It is a subject of intense interest in Southeast Asia given continuing disputes between many of its countries and China, especially over territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. Some politicians and analysts in the U.S. said the decision on the F-16s represented a capitulation to Beijing.
Nevertheless, “we are not bothered by the U.S. decision,“ said Edwin Lacierda, a spokesman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. The Philippines has lately been one of the most vocal critics of Chinese activities in the South China Sea and has repeatedly sought assurances from the U.S. that it would help defend the Philippines.
He said the Philippines continues to advocate a “multilateral diplomatic discussion“ on the South China Sea, parts of which are jointly claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines and several other Southeast Asian countries as well as Taiwan.
In Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy, Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said “we cannot interpret“ the U.S. decision on Taiwan as an abdication of America's commitments in Asia. “In a relationship between countries, choices of policy are often being influenced by national interests,“ he said, and the latest move didn't necessarily mean the U.S. would back away from its other promises to support the region.
Last year, for instance, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Southeast Asia conference in Hanoi that the U.S. had a national interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in.the South China Sea, though how far the U.S. would go to intervene in any escalation of the disputes there remains unclear.
Mr. Faizasyah said a planned visit by President Barack Obama to Indonesia in November would give the U.S. an opportunity to further demonstrate its commitment to Southeast Asia.
People familiar with the matter say many Southeast Asian leaders believe it is time to tone down their rhetoric against China after a serious ramp-up in tension over the past year, primarily due to the South China Sea, which may help explain why the reaction on Tuesday was so muted.
Regional diplomats add that some countries that don't have claims on the Sea -- especially Thailand -- are increasingly frustrated by the belligerent tone of the discourse between some Southeast Asian states and China, and are pressing behind the scenes for cooler heads to prevail.
Many governments may feel it isn't worth making a fuss over U.S. decisions that affect Taiwan and may even welcome the U.S. move as a way to defuse animosities that could complicate efforts to reach a breakthrough on the maritime disputes. If the U.S. is fighting with China over arms in Taiwan, this argument goes, it will have less leverage to press for progress on the Sea.
The U.S.'s move “will be broadly welcomed and in keeping with the Obama administration's policy of playing nice with China, because if the U.S. were to sell the new F-16s to Taiwan, that would almost certainly lead to a suspension of military-to-military ties and that's not in anybody's interests for stability in the region,“ said Ian Storey, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, who is an expert on regional security matters involving Southeast Asia, China and the U.S.
“l don't think it will be seen as the U.S. abdicating its responsibility for Taiwan because it's still heavily involved in defense issues“ in the region, he said. Attempts to reach other Southeast Asian governments for comment on Tuesday weren't successful.

Sumber : KOMPAS

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