US Navy's Pacific fleet chief gives sweeping view of his region. Lyons winds up Asia tour warning of Soviet intentions
The Soviet Union could dominate the western Pacific if Philippine democracy fails and United States military bases there are lost, the commander of the US Pacific fleet warned at the conclusion of an Asia tour. ``If democracy does not prevail in the Philippines,'' Adm. James Lyons Jr. told reporters here, ``that would be one of the most destabilizing factors in this part of the world.'' He called on all the nations of the Pacific Basin to provide economic assistance to help the new Philippine government through a difficult transition.
At the same time, Admiral Lyons cautioned the Philippines not to accept Soviet offers of aid. The Soviets, he charged, are ``trying to capitalize on the situation.'' They are making a ``determined effort'' to ``penetrate'' the country, he said, ``and to support leftist organizations which are not helpful to fostering stability.''
The admiral hinted at Soviet support for the communist New Peoples Army (NPA), which yesterday began a 60-day cease-fire with the government, but he acknowledged that he had no concrete evidence of such ties.
The Soviets seek the withdrawal of Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two huge US military bases in the Philippines, Lyons said. ``With the Soviet dominant position at Cam Ranh Bay [Vietnam],'' he said, ``if we were to withdraw from those facilities, we would be turning over our friends and allies to Soviet political-military domination in that region.''
Lyons praised the effort of President Corazon Aquino's government to reform the Philippine armed forces. ``Before, the armed forces ... were viewed [by the Filipino people] as the enemy,'' he said, referring to abuses committed by the Army in the countryside in battling the communist insurgency.
Filipinos support the continued presence of the US bases, he contends. The lease on those bases expires in 1991, when the Aquino government says it will reexamine their status. ``Nobody wants us to leave,'' he said, adding that the bases help the Philippine economy.
The admiral rejected as ``superficial'' the idea that the bases could be relocated elsewhere in the Pacific. ``There are no good alternatives to'' Clark and Subic Bay, he said forcefully. To maintain the same military capability without those bases would require ``in certain categories, two to three times the amount of forces I have today,'' Lyons said.
The admiral linked what he viewed as the Soviets' aims in the Philippines to ``their attempts to penetrate areas of the South Pacific.'' He criticized the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu for planning to establish close ties with the Soviets and said that the Soviets have been ``taking advantage of economic need'' in small island nations such as Kiribati. Last year, the Soviet Union gained fishing rights in the waters surrounding Kiribati.
But Lyons pointed to Kiribati's more recent behavior as an example to be followed, including by the Philippines: ``This year, [the Soviet Union] wanted port access and a permanent presence, but that little nation valued its freedom more than the quick buck ... and threw the Soviets out,'' he said.
Lyons criticized the Soviet Union for pursuing ``aggressive tactics'' throughout the western Pacific region. He pointed to Soviet military activities around Japan in the North Pacific near Alaska and near the Korean peninsula. He expressed concern over recent military access granted the Soviets by North Korea, including the right to fly bombers over its territory. Lyons cautioned North Korea against viewing that ``new association'' as a ``Soviet umbrella which would give them more freedom to take precipitous actions.''
The admiral declined to characterize the Soviet Union's attitude toward the Korean peninsula but pointedly contrasted the Soviet position with that of China, an ally of North Korea. Chinese policy, he said, ``is the same as ours: stability and peaceful reunification.'' Many defense analysts have said, however, that the Soviet Union has also favored stability on the peninsula and has not encouraged North Korean adventurism.