Envoy says US not changing Spratlys stand
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim on Sunday reiterated his government’s commitment to keep freedom of navigation intact in the South China Sea amid reports in US media of President Donald Trump’s shift in policy that would turn a blind eye on China’s incursions in the area in exchange for Beijing’s help in putting a stop to North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kim, who is of Korean descent, said the freedom of navigation and flight in the South China Sea was not just a concern of the United States but an issue that would have an impact on the international community.
“I have not seen such reporting but what I can say is our basic position has not changed,” Kim told reporters at the sidelines of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the fall of Corregidor during World War II.
“I mean, we continue to believe protecting freedom of navigation is not just a US issue but it’s for the whole international community,” he said.
“Freedom of navigation and freedom of flight … these are very fundamental rights not just strategically but in protecting the flow of international trade … so our position has not changed,” he added.
The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had turned down a request of the US Navy to sail within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands that China had built in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
China had been accused of planning to turn the artificial islands, which were built over coral reefs, into military bases. Beijing repeatedly denied the accusations.
In its report, the Times said no freedom of navigation operations had been conducted by the US Navy since Trump took office in January.
Another report, on the cable news giant CNN, quoted analysts who said that keeping the US Navy at bay in the South China Sea was part of Trump’s efforts to coax China into cooperating fully against North Korea, which continues to threaten the US with a nuclear strike.
Asked for comment, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dismissed speculation that a reduction of troop size by the US in the South China Sea would have an impact on Filipino troop presence in areas being held by the Philippines in the Spratlys.
“I don’t think so. We can still go to our [forces] in Pag-asa,” Lorenzana said, referring to the largest Philippine-controlled island in the disputed territory.
“We hope that freedom of navigation is maintained there,” he added.
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