US national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Monday assured the Philippines and Vietnam, countries both locked in maritime rows with China, that Washington has their backs and would fight to keep the Indo-Pacific region free and open.
“Our message is we’re going to be here, we’ve got your back, and we’re not leaving,” said O’Brien, on a visit to the Philippines after concluding a trip to Vietnam on Sunday.
“I think when we send that message – that peace-through-strength message – is the way to deter China. It is a way to ensure the peace,” O’Brien said.
Vietnam and the Philippines have been the most vocal regional opponents to what they see as Chinese overreach in the South China Sea and its disregard for boundaries outlined in international maritime law.
China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim parts of it.