The United States’ presence in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) will be helpful, but China’s involvement is still necessary to ensure long-term stability, government officials said.

“The Philippines would want stability in this part of the world, in that part of the world,” Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Tuesday, following renewed rhetoric from both Washington and Beijing at a just-concluded regional security forum in Singapore.

“[The] Philippines’ position is that every country has the right to use the waters in the South China Sea, as well as the air space and we want peace and quiet in that area. So, anything that will provide such kind of atmosphere, we are for it,” he told reporters in a briefing in Malacañang.

“If the presence of the US will make it so, then that’s good for all of us, all of the claimants.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who attended the Shangri-la Dialogue held in Singapore from May 31 to June 2, said he supported the US’ freedom of navigation operations, but added this would not be enough to keep disputed waters free and open.

“It’s not sufficient because we have to get the cooperation of China to keep the South China Sea free and open in the long run,” Lorenzana said during a question and answer session at the security forum.

“[Y]es, China’s role in the South China Sea is very much welcome, but it should display a lot of… [being a] responsible major power and not using might to force its way in the South China Sea,” he added.

The Defense chief said a code of conduct — still to be agreed on by all claimants — was also critical as he added that the Philippines’ claims were far superior to China’s.
Pointing to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling that upheld a Philippine complaint, he said China’s so-called “historical records” do “not exist.”

He also expressed concern that a “face-off” between the US and China could find the Philippines caught in the middle. “Anything that they do, if there is a conflict, there is a shooting… if the trade war continues then we are affected, so it impacts us,” Lorenzana said.

Panelo, meanwhile, said the Philippines would only object to a US presence if this was conducted “without our consent.”

Palace OK with US presence