Manila does not object to the presence of the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer near the disputed Spratly Islands as the US operation was conducted in accordance with “freedom of navigation,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Friday.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) — On Thursday, the USS John S. McCain sailed within 12 nautical miles of the man-made Mischief Reef in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, during a “freedom of navigation exercise” in the disputed region. The Chinese Defense Ministry in response urged the United States to immediately cease all provocative activities in the South China Sea, as they impede bilateral relations and mutual trust between the armed forces of the two countries.
“We are not the spokesman for the Chinese. On the other hand, in the words of [Philippine Defense] Secretary Lorenzana, the Philippines has no objection regarding presumed innocent passage of sea craft and that there is, in other words, freedom of navigation,” Abella said at the press briefing.
Chinese authorities have repeatedly voiced their protests against US actions in the region, which are considered by Beijing as violations of its own sovereignty. In July, Beijing expressed its outrage over US guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem entering the waters off the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, known in China as the Xisha Islands. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the move violated Chinese as well as international law, and constituted a serious political and military provocation.
The Asia-Pacific region faces several territorial disputes in South China and East China seas, involving China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. China considers the Spratly archipelago as its territory, despite the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration decision that Beijing had no reasons for territorial claims in the South China Sea. The arbitration proceeding was initiated by the Philippines in January 2013.