As President Obama began a weeklong tour of Asia on Wednesday, anti-U.S. protesters in the Philippines clashed with police over the president’s scheduled visit and a pact that will beef up U.S. military forces there.
Riot policemen wielding truncheons and shields sprayed protesters with water from a fire truck to push them away from the heavily fortified U.S. embassy compound in Manila. A police officer was punched in the face in the melee but no arrests were made.
Some of the protesters carried paper U.S. flags with the message: “Obama, not welcome.”
Mr. Obama, who arrived in Japan on Wednesday at the start of the four-nation trip, will travel to Manila on Monday after stops in South Korea and Malaysia. He is expected to reassure allied nations enmeshed in long-running territorial disputes with an increasingly assertive China.
Upon his arrival in Japan, Mr. Obama had dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an exclusive sushi restaurant. He is scheduled to hold formal talks with Mr. Abe on Thursday.
Ahead of his arrival in Tokyo, Mr. Obama sought to reassure Japan that its security pact with the U.S. does apply to the islands at the center of a territorial dispute with Beijing.
“The policy of the United States is clear,” the president said in a written response to questions published in Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper before his arrival in Tokyo. Mr. Obama said he opposes “unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands” and said the disputes need to be resolved “through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion.”
The U.S. and the Philippines, which are treaty allies, have been scrambling to overcome differences to finalize a new security accord in time for Mr. Obama’s visit and meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
The accord will allow more U.S. troops, aircraft and ships to be temporarily stationed in selected Philippine military camps as a counterweight to China and as a standby disaster-response force. About 500 American soldiers have been based in the southern Philippines since 2002 to provide antiterrorism training and intelligence to Filipino troops battling al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.
Protesters opposed to the accord say the U.S. is seeking to exert its dominance over the Philippines.
“Obama’s visit is not a symbol of friendship, but signals the U.S. plan to reoccupy the Philippines. He will meet with … Aquino to push for measures that would further tighten the U.S. economic, military and all-around control over the country,” said Roger Soluta, Secretary General of Kilusang Mayo Uno, one of the groups present at the protest rally.
Another militant group, Bayan, said the U.S. has an imperialist agenda in Asia.
“The U.S. seeks to maintain its dominance in the region by violating the national sovereignty and plundering the economies of their so-called ‘allies’. The people of Asia stand to gain nothing from the Obama visit and the U.S. agenda he carries,” said Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general.
The group said it would be back on the streets on Monday and Tuesday during Mr. Obama’s state visit.
Philippine negotiators have stressed that the military agreement would comply with the Philippine constitution and would prohibit permanent presence of U.S. troops and weapons of mass destruction.