CHINA’S reclamation and construction activities in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) points to its desire to control the area, according to US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.
The diplomat said the United States will continue to express its opposition to Beijing’s maritime activities especially if these heighten tensions and threaten freedom of navigation.
“Clearly, there’s a pattern there that they want to control this area,” Goldberg noted during a recent roundtable with editors and reporters of The Manila Times.
He dismissed criticisms that the US is adding fuel to the fire of an already bitter sea dispute by supporting the Philippines, which had filed a case against China before an international arbitral tribunal.
China has laid claim to almost the entire West Philippine Sea, parts of which are also being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Goldberg said the US has not taken sides on the issue but it only wants to safeguard freedom of navigation as it seeks peaceful resolution of the sea dispute.
The contested waters are a strategic route through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.
“What we are doing is supporting the Philippines’ right to bring this case without taking a position on the claims,” Goldberg explained.
“We have undertaken freedom of navigation measures but that’s not new. China, in some ways, is trying to make it appear that we are provocative and trying to raise tensions but it isn’t new. We’ve been doing that for decades. Our interests are the freedom of navigation and the principle that this issue should be decided by the rule of law,” the envoy said.
The US, he added, is in constant talks with China to express its opposition to Beijing’s unilateral moves in the area, including the reclamation, construction and militarization of some islands.
As China remains assertive, Goldberg said, the only thing that the Philippines and other claimants can do for now is to wait for the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in The Netherlands. The tribunal is expected to come up with its decision later this year.
Goldberg said the US “will continue without a doubt to do this freedom of navigation missions and we will see if the Chinese change at all their calculation.”
Meanwhile, the ambassador assured Filipinos of continued assistance of the US, especially in light of a Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Philippines-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
“There is the EDCA, which helps us move forward again in our defense and military relationship as the Philippines carries out a modernization program and begins to look at new 21st century challenges, like maritime security. We have a huge commitment in terms of helping the Philippines with our assistance, which is basically centered around this idea of [inclusive and sustainable economic growth]. Those are the things that we would like to continue to work on,” Goldberg said.