THE Philippine government sees nothing “objectionable” with a US destroyer sailing near China’s man-made islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a Palace official said on Friday.
Quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said the US move was part of its right to freedom of navigation.
“In the words of Secretary Lorenzana, the Philippines has no objection regarding that presumed innocent passage of a sea craft and that there is, of course, a freedom of navigation,” Abella told reporters.
“In other words, from our side, we don’t find it objectionable,” the Palace official added.
The USS John S. McCain sailed near Mischief Reef, a move Beijing labeled as a “provocation” while the US called it appropriate under international law.
The reef is now an artificial island controlled by China in the Kalayaan or Spratly Islands, known by the Chinese as the Nansha Islands.
The US has criticized China’s construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the disputed territories and has expressed concern it could be used to restrict free nautical movement.
China’s claims in the South China Sea are also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
An angry Beijing warned off a US warship after it sailed near an artificial island in the disputed South China Sea in the latest operation aimed at loosening the Asian giant’s grip on the strategic waterway.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the actions of the USS John S. McCain had violated Chinese and international law, “seriously” impairing the country’s sovereignty and security.
“China is strongly dissatisfied with this,” Geng said in a statement, adding that Beijing would lodge an official protest with Washington.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US official told AFP a Chinese frigate sent radio warnings at least 10 times to the USS McCain.
“They called and said ‘please turn around, you are in our waters,’” the official said. “We told them we are a US [ship]conducting routine operations in international waters.”
The official said the interactions were all “safe and professional,” with the operation lasting about six hours from start to finish, but Geng said such operations “seriously endanger lives.”
The freedom of navigation operation was the third of its kind carried out by the United States since President Donald Trump took office in January.
The US move came four days after the United States, Australia and Japan denounced Beijing’s island-building and militarization of the South China Sea on the sidelines of a security forum of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Manila.
A security think tank, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, released satellite images on its website which it said showed that China was expanding artificial islands, contradicting Beijing’s assurance that it stopped such activities two years ago.
In recent years Beijing has managed to weaken regional resistance by courting some Asean members.
On Sunday China scored a coup when Asean ministers issued a diluted statement on the dispute and agreed to its terms on talks at the Manila meeting.
China insists that a much-delayed code of conduct between it and Asean members over the disputed sea must not be legally binding, a demand to which Southeast Asian countries have so far acquiesced.