The United States will put its strong feet on the ground in flying, sailing and operating around the world, wherever international law allows, the South China Sea included. This is according to remarks made by secretary of Defense Ashton Carter during a joint conference with Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop.
The statement comes as reports emerged of U.S. deploying its warships over the disputed region. The country is also participating in joint war games with India and Japan. The Philippines, experiencing the wrath of China’s militarization over the region, braced itself for a stronger Chinese retaliation as events unfold.
“The United States stands ready to continue our role as a pivotal security partner in this region, as we have done for over 70 years,” Carter said. Without singling out China, Carter calls for all parties to halt further reclamation and any further militarization of features in the South China Sea.
Carter highlighted that there had been an increased call among Asian nations for U.S.’s commitment in solving regional issues over the disputed South China Sea. He said that Japan, the Philippines, India and Vietnam are calling for the country and the United States Navy to have more presence and interaction in the region.
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Tensions continue to boil over the disputed region. Earlier this week, a senior U.S. official, who has spoken with the Financial Times on condition of anonymity, revealed that U.S. warships will be deployed inside the 12-nautical mile zones that China claims as territory. According to the Financial Times, this is going to be the first time since 2012 that U.S. will sail that close in territories claimed by China. The maneuver is a deliberate effort from US in telling that China’s activities over the region violate both the international and the UN Law of the Sea.
Philippine defense analyst Rommel Banlaoi told CNN that if this report is true, then the Philippines should be prepared for China’s strong reaction as soon as those warships are deployed. “China can harden its position by increasing its military, paramilitary activities and even hamper Philippine activities in those disputed areas. And China has resources to do that,” Banlaoi told CNN.
He said whichever way, whether U.S. deploys those warships or it fails to deter China’s provocation, the Philippines is at the receiving end of Beijing’s wrath. “It depends on how the United States will react but as far as I’m concerned, it’s better to let the major powers out of the issue and allow claimants to settle this peacefully since the Philippine government has already forwarded this case before the international arbitration,” Banlaoi explained.
U.S. is also deploying USS Theodore Roosevelt and a nuclear-powered submarine as it participates in a war game together with India and Japan in the Bay of Bengal. Australia and other Southeast Asian countries will also join the drill which will be held each year starting this year, CNBC reported, citing South China Sea relations expert, Srikanth Kondapalli.
Bishop, on the other hand, said Australia is on the same page with U.S. when it comes to the claims in the South China Sea. Australia does not take sides on various territorial claims but it has deep national interest in freedom of navigation because two-thirds of its merchandise trade passes through those seas.
“We will continue to work not only with our ally the United States, but with the other ASEAN countries in ensuring that any issues in the South China Sea are resolved peacefully and that there be no acknowledgement or no support for any coercive unilateral behavior that escalates tensions in the region,” Bishop said.