President Barack Obama recently returned from his tour of the Asia-Pacific to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to its “pivot to Asia” policy. An important stop along the way was a visit to long-time ally of the United States, the Philippines. During President Obama’s visit, the Philippines and the United States signed a 10-year defense agreement. According to Evan Medeiros, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs, “This is the most significant defense agreement that we have concluded with the Philippines in decades.” The Washington Post reported that in addition to helping to balance China’s claims to the South China Sea, the agreement “gives the United States greater flexibility to respond to threats and natural disasters in the region.” This was echoed in remarks by President Obama and President Benigno Aquino in a joint press conference.
President Aquino included in his remarks:
Typhoon Haiyan showed the entire world how vulnerable the Philippines as well as other developing countries are to natural disasters. As such, humanitarian assistance and disaster response is an essential component of our cooperation. As the United States and the American people have always been ready to support us in the aftermath of disasters, so too do we look forward to the continued cooperation of the United States and the rest of our partners in the international community as we undertake the task of building back the communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
This morning we made a promising start as we discussed how our partnership can be enhanced through building climate resilient communities. These kind of strong communities are important not only in withstanding disasters, but also in fostering inclusive growth across the entire country.
President Obama’s remarks also referenced cooperating on climate-security initiatives:
Today, I’m pleased that we’re beginning an important new chapter in the relationship between our countries, and it starts with our security — with the new defense cooperation agreement that was signed today. I want to be very clear: The United States is not trying to reclaim old bases or build new bases. At the invitation of the Philippines, American servicemembers will rotate through Filipino facilities. We’ll train and exercise more together so that we’re prepared for a range of challenges, including humanitarian crises and natural disasters like Yolanda….
Today, I’m announcing that my Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker, will lead a delegation of American business leaders to the Philippines this June to explore new opportunities. And I’d add that we’ve also committed to work together to address the devastating effects of climate change and to make Philippine communities less vulnerable to extreme storms like Yolanda.
Both the United States and the Philippines are wise to draw important climate security lessons from Typhoon Yolanda. We commend the countries for their commitment to cooperate to prevent and prepare for future climatic disasters.