United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has urged all nations, especially claimants to the hotly contested South China (West Philippine) Sea, to take a stand publicly by asserting their sovereign rights and to adopt public postures.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Esper cited the recently concluded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) held in Bangkok, Thailand, where “most participants” were “very concerned” about the excessive claims of China in the region.
“The general theme that I took from our formal plenary discussion is that most participants in that room are very concerned about China’s excessive claims in the region, that there [is] lack of compliance with international laws and norms, and they are concerned about the course of tactics used by Beijing throughout the region to advance their interests,” he said at a joint news conference with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Lorenzana was among the participants in the ADMM-Plus in Thailand.
The conference was joined by defense ministers of the Asean, US, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Korea, where rising tensions in the South China Sea was tackled.
Esper, pointing out the importance for nations concerned to assert their rights, also cited the significance of international laws.
“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 20 years and so have other countries, by the way,” he said.
“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 added.
A bilateral dialogue was held between Esper and Lorenzana, along with their delegations.
The US Defense chief is in the Philippines as part of his visit to the Indo-Pacific region that includes South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
In his opening statement to the media in Manila, Esper said Washington rejects any attempt by any nation in using coercion and intimidation for the sake of national interests “at the expense of others.”
“It is crucial that we stand together to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea,” he noted.
“We must continue to work closely together to uphold international rules… that will enable our shared security and prosperity [in] the past 70 years,” Esper said.