Together, the United States and the Philippines are writing a new chapter in our storied alliance and building a multifaceted relationship for the 21st century. Our trade and economic linkages continue to deepen through initiatives like the Partnership for Growth. And just a few minutes ago, Secretary del Rosario and I signed a new agreement that will spur joint efforts on science and technology, because when our scientists share their ideas and their resources, not only do our two countries but the world reaps the benefits. And we are also increasing the number of United States Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines. (Applause.)
Last year, I celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty in Manila, and Secretary Panetta and I co-hosted our counterparts for the first time ever last April. Our special forces have been working side by side with their Filipino counterparts. We are also working closely together to increase information and intelligence exchanges and coordination on maritime domain issues. And in this context, I'm pleased to announce today that the United States will support the construction, outfitting, and training of a new National Coast Watch Center in the Philippines. (Applause.)
As allies, our two nations consult on important regional issues, as we have done regarding our respective diplomacy in the South China Sea. As I’ve said many times, the United States does not take a position on the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But we do, however, have a clear interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea. (Applause.)
In this context, we welcome the initial steps to defuse tensions surrounding the Scarborough Reef taken by President Aquino. And we encourage continued diplomatic dialogue and further efforts to lessen tension, to disengage, and to resolve the situation peacefully. The United States has been consistent in that we oppose the use of force or coercion by any claimant to advance its claims, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely. We also call on ASEAN and China to conclude their efforts to reach consensus on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Now, President Aquino first came to the United States over 30 years ago to seek asylum with his family as political turmoil ravaged his country. Today, I welcome him here to reaffirm our shared future based on mutual respect and interests, our common democratic values, new partnerships, and the bonds between our peoples.
I think, Mr. President, you can see from just looking out here that we have quite a few Filipino Americans here today. And indeed – (applause) – if we’d had a room twice or three times as big, you’d see even more Filipino Americans, because this is time not only to celebrate the friendship between our nations, but it is also a time to recognize the many contributions of Filipino Americans to our nation and the gratitude we have that Filipino culture, family ties, and connections have enriched the United States so much.
So please join me in a toast to the president and to the people of the Philippines, and to the partnership and friendship between the United States and the Philippines. Cheers, Mr. President.