Defying Chinese calls to keep out of the South China Sea, Washington’s top diplomat to Manila on Thursday said the US will continue to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the disputed waters “to protect important international rights for everybody, including the Philippines.”
US Ambassador Sung Kim said the US is concerned over China’s recent unilateral actions in the waters, which suggest “that they are moving towards militarization.”
“We are concerned. I think we are concerned anytime a claimant, including China, takes aggressive unilateral actions towards militarization, which is clear what they have done and I saw the report,” Kim told journalists at the US Embassy in Manila.
China is accused of militarizing the South China Sea after it was reported that it has installed missiles and radars on artificial islands it built on the waters. It also reportedly sent Chinese military vessels in one of the Philippine-claimed features, called the Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef), that it now controls.
Beijing dismissed The Hague tribunal’s decision on a case filed by the Philippines that invalidated its virtual claim over nearly the entire waters in July 2016. It also refused to participate in the proceedings, which was done under the auspices of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea both signed by the Philippines and China.
The South China Sea is a vital sealane where oil and natural gas have been discovered in several areas. China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are asserting ownership over the waters in part or in whole.
“We have called on countries to refrain from reclamation and militarization of the reclaimed land and we will continue to do so,” Kim said as he stressed that “it is very important for us to be present” in the South China Sea.