US Defense Secretary Mark Esper assured the Philippines and its allies that Washington rejected “any attempt by any nation from using coercion and intimidation for the sake of national interests at the expense of others.”
Esper urged claimants of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) to assert their sovereign rights and abide by international laws “that will enable our shared security and prosperity [over] the past 70 years.”
Esper spoke to reporters on Tuesday at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, along with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and revealed that during the recently-concluded Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Bangkok, Thailand, “most participants” were “very concerned.”
Lorenzana was among the delegates at the ADMM-Plus in Thailand, where defense ministers from Asean, US, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Korea, noted the rising tension in the South China Sea.
Esper said that it was important for nations concerned to assert their rights and emphasize the importance of the international law.
“That is why the US conducts Fonops (Freedom of Navigation Operations) and I think that statistic said yesterday (Monday) that we have more Fonops in the past year than we have in the past [more than] 20 years and so have other countries by the way,” he added.
“The signal that we are trying to send is that we all stand with international laws and I think China should abide by them as well,” Esper also said.
Esper and Lorenzana held a dialogue, along with their delegations, although its details were not diclosed.
The US Defense chief is in the Philippines as part of his visit to the Indo-Pacific region, which also includes South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
In his opening statement to the media in Manila, Esper said “it was crucial that we stand together to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea.”
“We must continue to work closely together to uphold the international rules…that will enable our shared security and prosperity [in] the past 70 years,” Esper added.