Malacañang on Saturday rejected China’s statement that the joint patrols of Philippine and American troops in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) reflects a “cold war mentality.”
“We believe that the People’s Republic of China, through its statements, misunderstands or perhaps does not properly appreciate the purpose of our activities with the United States,” Presidential Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon 3rd said in a radion interview.
“These are to ensure freedom of navigation in the region which benefits all nations because it allows the free, unhampered flow of trade which is to benefit all the economies of the region. These are peaceful and highly uncontroversial exercises meant to ensure that prosperity is continuous under a regime of stability through the participation of all countries,” he added.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on Thursday that the US had launched joint naval patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea, citing the growing concern over China’s “land reclamation” and “militarization” in the region.
He also said the US will deploy hundreds of troops and five warplanes, to the Philippines.
China reacted defiantly to the announcement, with its Defense ministry warning the military will protect the nation’s territory.
“US-Philippine joint patrols in the South China Sea promote regional militarization and undermine regional peace and stability,” said a Chinese defense ministry statement released late Thursday.
“The Chinese military will pay very close attention to related developments, and firmly safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” he added.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea. It has in recent months built artificial islands in the Spratlys and constructed airstrips in contested areas.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to areas in the disputed sea.
Despite China’s statements, Carter said the US is still inviting China to take part in a mammoth, multinational naval exercise in the Pacific later this year.
Carter, who just concluded a visit to the Philippines to show Washington’s continued commitment to maintaining security in the region, said China was still welcome to attend the biannual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise off Hawaii in June and July.
“We have not taken the step of disinviting them,” Carter said during a visit to the US aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.
“Our approach has always been to try to include everyone,” he told reporters.
American congressmen had previously called for China to be disinvited from RIMPAC, the largest international naval exercises in the Pacific under US leadership.
The legislators cited China’s aggressive actions in pressing its claim over maritime territory in Asia.
Carter had stressed that the US will stand with the Philippines and its other allies against “coercion and intimidation.”
The Philippines been among the most vocal in criticizing China’s actions, even asking a United Nations-backed tribunal to decide on its sea disputes with China.
China took part in RIMPAC for the first time in 2014 when 23 counties, about 50 ships, six submarines and more than 25,000 troops were involved.
Defending the inclusion of China in this year’s exercise, Carter said that “even we stand strong with our alliances… we are still taking the approach that everybody ought to work together.”
He said the Chinese should “stop from standing apart from everybody” and “isolating and excluding” themselves.