US urges Southeast Asia to respond to China’s island fortification



MANILA — A senior United States Naval officer is encouraging Southeast Asian nations to determine its own response to China’s military expansion in the South China Sea.

Speaking during the Asia-Pacific Media Hub telephonic conference on Thursday, US Naval Operations chief Adm. John Richardson specifically called on Australian and Indonesian maritime forces to step up presence in the contested waterway.

“I think every nation’s going to have to assess their situation and take their own approach. But, at some point, navies are meant to get under way and be present to provide options to their leadership, and how they choose to do that is a matter of their national sovereign approach,” Richardson said from Tokyo, Japan where he was making a visit.

The Philippines has claims to the South China Sea and recently complained of Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone in the disputed sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have partial claims.

Indonesia claims sovereignty over a section of what it calls the North Natuna sea, and last year opened a small military base on an island there.

Australia has backed all nations having access to the strategic sea lane, through which nearly one third of global shipping passes annually.

“Where we can see opportunities to work together, exercise together, be present together — those, I think, are things that we are constantly looking for. We’ve got a robust relationship with both of those navies, so we’ll just continue to do that,” Richardson said.

“But I think one size does not fit all. One size doesn’t fit every part of the Pacific. There’s a lot of variability there. Neither does one approach fit for every nation in the Pacific. Everybody’s got to determine their own approach,” he added.

Meanwhile, the four-star admiral hailed the Philippine Navy’s enthusiasm for modernization that has been said to be effective in intensifying maritime security.

“[Philippine Navy chied Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad] gave a presentation which highlighted the effectiveness of some of the patrols that have been going on, both in a multilateral context to the south, and then maybe looking to expand with a similar multilateral approach to the north. He was able to show with data that the undesired behavior in the maritime domain around the Philippines has gone dramatically down by virtue of these patrols, particularly the multinational patrols,” Richardson said.