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U.S. 'WITH' PHILIPPINES ON ISLANDS

The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines appeared to side with Manila on Tuesday in its tense dispute with China over islands both nations claim in the South China Sea, where Beijing also is asserting its power over waters that serve as key global shipping lanes and hold significant energy reserves.

AmbassadorHarry Thomasspoke in guarded terms, but his remarks were widely interpreted in Manila as reflecting the strongest U.S. support yet for the Philippines' claim to the Spratly Islands.

"I want to assure you that on all sectors, we, the United States, are with the Philippines," he said at the launch of a Philippines project on renewable energy.

"The Philippines and the United States are strategic-treaty allies. We are partners. We will continue to consult and work with each other on all issues, including the South China Sea and the Spratlys."

The United States officially has called for negotiations to settle claims with China over the Spratlys and the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim territorial waters in the South China Sea.

China, however, is trying to assert its sovereignty over about 80 percent of the region - about 648,000 square miles of open water.

As recently as Friday, the State Department repeated its position, as tensions increased between China and Vietnam over maritime oil exploration rights.

"We support a collaborative diplomatic process and call on all claimants to conform all of their claims, both land and maritime, to international law," spokesman Mark Tonersaid.

In Manila, newspapers applauded Mr. Thomas, as they interpreted his remarks as U.S. backing in its clash with China.

The Spratly Islands are about 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of China but only 230 miles from the Philippines.

"The United States threw ... its support to the Philippines amid the escalating tensions over the dispute Spratly Islands," the Sun Star newspaper reported.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer saw Mr. Thomas' remarks as an attempt to answer Filipino lawmakers who questioned whether the United States would abide by a defense treaty to aid the Philippines" if the verbal row with China" escalates.

The United States and the Philippines signed a defense pact in 1951.

China on Tuesday told Washington to stay out of the dispute, after Sen.Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, condemned Beijing on Monday for allegations that Chinese boats forcefully prevented Vietnamese vessels from exploring for oil in the South China Sea.

COLOMBIA MEETS KEY TRADE GOAL

Colombian AmbassadorGabriel Silvaurged President Obama to submit a long-stalled free-trade agreement to Congress after his nation cleared a major hurdle in trade talks with the adoption of key labor rights.

"Every day without a free-trade agreement in place is a day that a U.S. farmer sells his corn or wheat at a higher price than his competitors in the Colombian market," he said.

"It is a day that a Colombian flower grower sells her roses at a higher price in the U.S. market."

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement would remove tariffs on goods from both nations and stimulate more commerce. Currently, 39 percent of Colombian exports go to the United States, while 29 percent of Colombian imports come from America. Corn is the major U.S. export.

U.S. Trade RepresentativeRon Kirkannounced this week that Colombia met American requirements to protect labor rights in a nation long accused of allowing right-wing paramilitary groups to kill union leaders.

Former President George W. Bushsigned the trade pact in 2006, but the Democrat-controlled Congress at the time refused to consider the measure.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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