THE United States will continue its operations in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) despite China’s attempts to restrict navigation and overflight in the area, a US official said.
Colin Willett, deputy assistant secretary of the US Department of State, on Friday noted that the US’ “political, economic and security future lay in [Asia Pacific]” thus, it “could not afford to under-invest in what is the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.”
Willet said the US had always moved in the strategic waters in accordance with international law and with respect to the rights of other nations.
“We have a number of security alliances and partnerships in the region. I can’t comment specifically on our military deployments but we certainly intend to continue to fly, operate and sail through the region in accordance with international law. We will continue to coordinate closely with our friends and security partners in the region and I would expect that to continue unabated,” she added in an interview.
Willett said the US has no other intention than to exercise and protect the navigational rights and freedom of all seafaring nations.
“So we’re very concerned and don’t see any valid reasoning for China’s attempted restrictions. It’s why we find Beijing’s recent statements that the United States is militarizing spurious and frankly somewhat perplexing,” she added.
“Militarizing disputed islands claimed by others where tensions are already high, we see as a fundamentally different endeavor. When countries place weapons on their outposts or transform them into only what we can describe as military bases, it sets a stage for others to follow suit and raises the risk of conflict and lowers the prospect for diplomatic solutions,” the official said.
Willett noted that tensions in the West Philippine Sea can be reduced if the six claimant countries — China, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam — will enter into a meaningful diplomatic process by which they will find ways to manage their disputes.
“For example, the arbitral tribunal will make a ruling on, or potentially will make a ruling on, the status of a number of the features in the South China Sea and that offers an opportunity to reduce the scope of the maritime disputes, recognizing that won’t rule on the sovereignty or the land features,” she said.
“It’s still an opportunity for the countries involved or the parties to the disputes to have a conversation among themselves that reduces how much their maritime claims overlap and then to have a serious discussion about where their claims do overlap, how they’re going to interact in those areas,” Willett added.