MALACAÑANG wants no “untoward” incidents in disputed waters with presence of United States military vessels in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. made the statement after US Navy Rear Admiral John Fuller told reporters on board the USS Carl Vinson that “US presence matters” in the disputed waters.
“We hope there will be no untoward incident on the occasion of the visit of USS Carl Vinson in our region,” Roque said.
Roque said any country was free to navigate the West Philippine Sea.
“All vessels, including aircraft carriers, are entitled to freedom of navigation in the [West Philippine Sea],” he said.
One of the United States Navy’s longest-serving active carriers, USS Carl Vinson is conducting a “routine mission” in the area, where years of island reclamation and military construction by Beijing has rattled regional nerves.
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy arrived at the Manila port on Friday with more than 5,500 sailors from both vessels set to visit local attractions and participate in community service projects while in the Philippine capital.
“We are just very thankful for the support we have from the Philippine government and the Philippine people,” said Fuller in a statement on Friday. “We have a longstanding relationship and we want to continue to build on that.”
The USS Carl Vinson hosted top Philippine government and military officials, February 14, before arriving.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and others flew aboard the carrier with US Ambassador Sung Kim.
The delegation ate lunch with strike group leadership, toured the hangar bay, and observed flight operations on the flight deck prior to boarding a C-2A Greyhound for the return to Manila.
Following criticism that the Trump administration’s commitment to the Asian region has been distracted by North Korea, reporters were also flown onto the USS Carl Vinson hosted top Philippine government and military officials February 14 before arriving on Wednesday as it sailed through the sea.
Earlier this month, pictures showed that China was nearly done with the construction of military facilities in islands claimed by neighboring countries, including the Philippines.
Fuller, commander of the Carl Vinson Strike Group, said on Wednesday the 333-meter-long ship’s presence was a way to reassure allies.
“The nations in the Pacific are maritime nations,” he said. “They value stability … That’s exactly what we are here for. This is a very visible and tangible presence. The United States is here again.”
Beijing claims most of the South China Sea – believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits and through which $5 trillion in trade passes annually – and has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the sea.