PNoy says US patrols in South China Sea not a problem


MANILA – Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday said U.S. navy patrols in the disputed South China Sea are not a problem, and welcomed a balance of power in the region.

The U.S. Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer close to China’s man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, drawing an angry rebuke from Beijing, which said it warned and followed the American vessel.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. The Philippines’ case for arbitration has been heard at The Hague.

“Freedom of navigation has been expounded and propounded by all parties to the issues of the South China Sea/ West Philippine Sea, and everybody seems to be guaranteeing freedom of navigation. So I see no issue as to this U.S. naval ship traversing under international law in waters that should be free to be traveled upon by any non-belligerent country,” Aquino said at a news conference in Manila.

The patrol by the USS Lassen was the most significant U.S. challenge yet to 12-nautical-mile territorial limits China asserts around the islands in the Spratly archipelago and could ratchet up tensions in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

One U.S. defense official said the USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef. A second defense official said the mission, which lasted a few hours, also included Mischief Reef and would be the first in a series of freedom-of-navigation exercises aimed at testing China’s territorial claims.

The Philippines claims Mischief Reef in the Spratly group of islands as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Aquino was asked if U.S. patrols would increase tensions in the region.

“If there are no hostile intentions being alluded to by any party, why should tensions be increasing in this particular portion of the world? Twelve nautical miles is the international standard of territorial waters. And again, so long as everybody conforms to the norms based on international customs and rules, regulations and laws, then there shouldn’t be any problem,” Aquino said.

The second U.S. defense official said additional patrols would follow in the coming weeks and could also be conducted around features that Vietnam and the Philippines have built up in the Spratlys.

Aquino welcomed the U.S. presence, and said that under a security agreement, Manila is bound to provide logistical support to its ally if asked.

“I think everybody would welcome a balance of power anywhere in the world,” he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the “relevant authorities” monitored, followed and warned the USS Lassen as it “illegally” entered waters near islands and reefs in the Spratlys without the Chinese government’s permission.

Reclamation work is well advanced on six reefs in the Spratly archipelago, according to recently published satellite photographs and officials of the Philippines.

Aquino also criticized China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone, requiring flights in the area over the disputed territories to check in with Beijing.

“When you change something, there is general agreement among all parties that are affected as to what changes would bring about a better regime in terms of travel. It cannot be determined by one entity. So the balance of power says that there is not just single voice that must be adhered to — there has to be a plurality of voices when all parties are affected by all changes on the realities on the ground,” he said.

The United States had not conducted a patrol within 12 miles of the seven Chinese outposts since Beijing began building the reefs up at the end of 2013. The U.S. Navy last went within 12 miles of Chinese-claimed territory in the Spratlys in 2012.

Washington worries that China has built up its outposts with the aim of extending its military reach in the South China Sea. China says they will have mainly civilian uses as well as undefined defense purposes.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • Pepot
    28 October 2015 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Long overdue by the U.S. to challenge China’s prolonged stubbornness in claiming that area inside Philippines EEZ. We do not know Chinese brains.Why they insist and go to war if that claims are challenge and won’ accept International Law to settle the matter? I thought China is a civilized country. It was really a big mistake by President Clinton encouraging and influenced World Trade to accept China as a member. Now we suffer and have a really big headache.

    28 October 2015 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Philippines very lucky you have the giant on your side and that is America. If it wasn’t for America I don’t think Philippines has the power to take care of China if something happens bad? But only one think China is very mad about it.

  • Yellow Buster
    29 October 2015 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    It was a “dumb and dumber” legacy that the Philippines drove the U.S. out of Subic Bay during the early 90’s. China during those times was nowhere near the Spratlys fishing or dredging, etc.