Philippines to request a united stand on China

THE Philippines wants Australia to be one of its top three defence allies in a move that would send a strong signal to China amid tensions over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippine President, Benigno Aquino, will press the government in Canberra this week to agree to a ''strategic partnership'' that would elevate Australia to being the Philippines' third closest ally after the US and Japan.

Mr Aquino has signalled he wants Australia to play a role in mobilising international support for his country's dispute with China that led to a tense stand-off of ships at Scarborough Shoal, in disputed waters, earlier this year.

''We share the same values, we're both democracies,'' Mr Aquino said in Manila before leaving for his first official visit to Australia.

''We have been normally on the same side of issues that have confronted our respective people since at least World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War,'' he said. ''We face the same challenges be it terrorism, global climate change, relationships with super powers in the region.''

Mr Aquino said Australia was ''studying'' his offer, but the Prime Minister's office did not respond when asked about Mr Aquino's request for a strategic partnership.

The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, has insisted that Australia will maintain its neutrality in the dispute while using its influence to ease tensions, especially between the US and China.

But Mr Aquino is likely to seek reaffirmation from Australia that territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully without threats and intimidation.

Mr Aquino will visit Canberra and Sydney from tomorrow to Friday, accompanied by a business delegation.

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