Opening Remarks at the U.S.-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue

Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Washington, DC
March 18, 2016

As prepared

I am extremely pleased to welcome the Philippine delegation to Washington, D.C. for the sixth iteration of our very important strategic dialogue. It is my pleasure to welcome back to Washington my good friends Evan Garcia and Pio Batino.

The United States attaches great importance to our relationship with the Philippines, a true ally and partner. Our bilateral relationship has never been stronger. Already this year

  • Secretary Kerry hosted the 2+2 Ministerial with Secretary of Defense Carter, and Secretaries Del Rosario and Gazmin;

  • President Aquino attended the historic U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands, California, hosted by President Obama; and

  • Just this week the United States and the Philippines held a meeting under our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

I am confident this Bilateral Strategic Dialogue will continue the progress our two nations have made together. Our talks today allow us to connect on a number of important global, regional, and bilateral issues. In addition:

  • We can discuss managing the political transition both our countries face with presidential elections this year in order to ensure close coordination to continue our strong cooperation,

  • We can discuss further deepening our economic ties, in particular through the U.S.-ASEAN Connect initiative, that President Obama announced at Sunnylands.

  • And importantly, implementing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, – an agreement with great benefits for both our countries. EDCA will enhance America’s ability to provide rapid assistance in the Philippines in cases of natural disasters, provide opportunities for bilateral training, and support the long-term modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

This year’s Dialogue comes at a critical moment for the rules-based future of the region. An arbitral tribunal in the Hague will soon announce its ruling in the Philippines’ case under the Law of the Sea Convention signed and ratified by all South China Sea claimant states. This use of international arbitration is an example of how SCS claimants, and any country, can use established mechanisms of international law to peacefully and fairly resolve thorny disputes. The question of jurisdiction has been resolved by the appropriate authorities. Therefore, the decision of the tribunal will be legally binding on the parties.

Countries all over the world have expressed support for these efforts to peacefully resolve disputes through international arbitration. At Sunnylands, the ASEAN leaders did too. In the landmark Sunnylands Declaration last month, President Obama, President Aquino, and the leaders of all ASEAN countries reaffirmed their shared commitment to maintain peace, security and stability, including freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities.

They also expressed a shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including, and I quote, “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes.”  The United States will continue to work with all our partners in the region to uphold these important principles of international law. We will work to uphold a rules-based order in the South China Sea that protects the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea guaranteed to all nations.

Today’s dialogue serves to further our bilateral cooperation on issues ranging from trade to our shared human rights and environmental concerns, our combined efforts to counter terrorism and promote good governance, and the enhancement of our people-to-people connections. As we convene today to discuss and work together on issues that are important to both our countries, and to the region, I want to reiterate that the U.S.-Philippines alliance and friendship are ironclad.

Thank you for joining us today at the State Department, and I look forward to our discussion.