Meeting between the newly installed Philippines President and US President Joe Biden in Washington DC and deeper cooperation between America and its former colony is causing protests on the streets of Manila. In the meantime, Thailand welcomed the US carrier strike group Nimitz to Chonburi last week while also welcoming its new Chinese-made frigate.

A visit by Philippines President Marcos to Washington DC on Monday and closer ties with the United States came with assurances that the two countries were ‘ironclad’ partners amid the current tensions confronting the region due to Chinese aggression. The meeting comes as Thailand, last week, welcomed the giant US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its battle group as the country’s position as a strategically important US ally was heralded by US Ambassador to Thailand, Robert F Godec.

US President Joe Biden welcomes Philippines President Joe Biden to the White House on Monday after a weekend of high drama on the South China Sea when Chinese vessels harried Philippines coast guard vessels (inset) drawing a US warning. The visit comes amid heightened military drills and cooperation between the US and the Philippines after Thailand paid host to the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (inset) last week which was welcomed in Chonburi by US Ambassador Robert F Godec.

US President Joe Biden received Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Junior at the White House on Monday amid mounting concern about conflict in the South China Sea between the naval forces of the Philippines and China.

The Philippines under Marcos has surprisingly tilted towards the United States and away from Beijing, a reversal of the trend seen under former President Rodrigo Duterte.

US and the Philippines just completed naval drills in the South China Sea with air force exercises to take place this week, the first time since 1990

The meeting came after the Philippines had just completed naval drills with US forces in the region and with air force exercises scheduled to begin this week, for the first time since 1990.

It comes as tensions between China and the United States and its allies on the South China Sea are beginning to boil over amid growing discord over Taiwan.

The situation is prompting real fears that a military conflict between China and the US is in the making.

That potential conflict or war could involve the wider Indo pacific and will certainly involve maritime military power supported from the air. 

Military experts fear the rising prospect of an accident occurring as forces with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) harry the forces of the United States and its allies by land and sea in increasingly dangerous manoeuvres.

US Department of State on Sunday warned China further provocations in the South China Sea against Philippines’ naval forces would draw a response

On Sunday, the United States called on Chinese authorities in Beijing to cease provocative and aggressive acts in the region after a near miss between a coast guard vessel of the Philippines and a Chinese coast guard vessel.

‘We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct,’ said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller who also said that a continuation of such activity will lead to a response from the United States.

The strong statement came just the day before President Marcos arrived in Washington DC to meet President Joe Biden and just days after a visit to Manila by the new, hardline Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Qin Gang.

In January, the Philippines President also paid a state visit to Beijing.

Against this backdrop, left-wing, anti-American demonstrations took to the streets of Manila to protest the growing cooperation with the United States. 

Philippines has moved back again towards the United States as the real prospect of conflicts in the region has risen giving the US access to key islands

The Philippines became a US protectorate in 1935 having first become a US colony in 1898 when the US purchased it from Spain for $20 million after the Spanish American War. It became independent in 1946.

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The Philippines has surprised many regional analysts with its shift back into the orbit of the United States and its accommodation of US interests by giving the American armed forces short-term expanded access to military bases near the South China Sea off Taiwan in recent months.

This comes despite China being the ASEAN country’s main trading partner.

Thailand last week hosted the USS Nimitz in Chonburi while taking possession of a new Chinese-made frigate and signalling Chinese submarine approval 

Against this backdrop, Thailand, which took possession of the Chinese made naval frigate HTMS Chang last week at the Sattahip Naval base in Chonburi and with indications that a Chinese S26 Yuan class submarine may proceed after all, played host to the giant US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz which was docked at Laem Chabang port in Chonburi allowing its 5,000 crew shore leave in Pattaya and Chonburi.

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The US vessel named after a US Commander in Chief of the Navy in the Indo-Pacific during World War Two has been at sea since 1975 and is known affectionately as the ‘Old Salt’.

The US ship was accompanied by USS Bunker, a guided missile cruiser and the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur and USS Wayne E Meyer as well as a squadron of F18 fighter jets.

The force is known as the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group of the US 7th fleet and has been taking part in an 11-month mission in the Indo-Pacific since November last year.

Welcome by US Ambassador to Thailand Robert F Godec who pointed to 190 years of diplomatic relations with Thailand as a key US ally and friend

It was welcomed last Wednesday by US Ambassador to Thailand, Robert F Godec who took up his post in Thailand just before Christmas last year.

The US Ambassador welcomed the task force and spoke of the long friendship between Thailand and the United States going back to the nineteenth century.

‘Thailand is the oldest friend and ally of the United States in Asia. Our friendship spans two centuries, and we have accomplished so much together,’ he told his audience. ‘This year, we are privileged to celebrate the 190th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations.’

However, despite the flourishing relationship between Thailand and the United States in the aftermath of World War Two from 1945 and the longstanding and active US-Thai alliance against China in the 1950s and 1960s up to Thailand opening up diplomatic relations with China in 1975, it should be noted that it declared war on both the United States and Great Britain on January 25th 1942 when the kingdom became, essentially, a puppet state of the Japanese Empire after being invaded in December 1941.

It had earlier, at the onset of World War Two in 1939, declared its neutrality in the conflict.

Thailand is a major non-NATO US ally

Thailand is a US military ally and designated by the United States as a major non-NATO ally suggesting close links between the armed forces of Thailand and the United States.

Despite this, the situation has become decidedly ambiguous in the last twenty years with strengthened military cooperation also between Thailand and China.

Lieutenant Ben Bushong, a spokesman for the USS Nimitz last week was coy about discussing the future itinerary of the task force in the Indo-Pacific but assured reporters that the crew were happy to be in Thailand.

‘We like to visit Thailand,’ he said.

The USS Nimitz battle group is tasked with patrolling the seas of the Indo-Pacific upholding international law and freedom of passage which is essential to world trade.

In March, Lieutenant Bushong, speaking with Sky News, told repeaters that the main focus of the task force’s efforts was on maintaining open and free navigation in the Indo-Pacific.

Beijing refuses to accept international law over the South China Sea regarding it as its own territory brooking no further discussion or arbitration 

He and his colleagues know things are tense, as they have been for some time.

‘The big picture is helping keep a free and open Indo-Pacific,’ he said. ‘I would just say we’re always ready and we’re always training, so if we ever get called, we’re ready to respond.’

He admitted that tensions were quite high and that they have been that way for some time.

The standoff between the United States and its allies and China led to a recent outburst from China’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Qin Gang, who warned that if America does not alter its course then hostilities between the United States and China were inevitable.

China’s rapid buildup of naval assets

This comes as China pours money into its defence forces including a tenfold increase in naval assets in the last twenty years.

History teaches us that this is often a prelude to war.

Speaking in March, again with Sky News, Rear Admiral Christopher Sweeney, who leads the Nimitz strike fleet, defended the US role in the region.

‘First, we are going to sail, operate and fly wherever international law allows,’ he said. ‘And my message to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) would be that we’re resolute in that, we’re not going to be bullied, we’re not going to be coerced and we are going to stay here and fly and operate in accordance with international norms.’

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