The Philippine government finds nothing “objectionable” with the United States’ recent “freedom of navigation operation” near China’s artificial island built in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a Palace official said on Friday, August 11.
In a press briefing, Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the U.S. Navy destroyer’s “presumed innocent passage” near the disputed Mischief or Panganiban Reef is not a cause for concern.
Quoting Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Abella said that “the Philippines has no objection regarding the presumed innocent passage” of USS John S. McCain in the reef located at the Spratly Islands—also referred to as Kalayaan Islands.
“And that there is of course the freedom of navigation. In other words, from our side — from our side we find no objection,” Abella added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also backed the U.S. operation.
“Well, freedom of navigation is guaranteed and anyone can do it. So, we just need to monitor. And as long as it is within the bounds set forth by international law, then it is all right,” AFP spokesperson Brig. General Restituto Padilla said during the same conference.
The Philippine officials’ statements came in contrast with China’s position which described the U.S.’ move as a “provocation” that may lead to “unexpected incident at sea or in the air.”
Citing U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, Reuters previously reported that the U.S. destroyer carried out its third “freedom of navigation of navigation” under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The sea craft reportedly sailed within the 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial island built in Mischief Reef.
In a statement, the Chinese government expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the operation, claiming that it violated the international law and harmed the country’s sovereignty and security.
“China is resolutely opposed to this kind of show of force and pushing of regional militarization by the U.S. that may easily cause an unexpected incident at sea or in the air,” the government said in a statement, adding that it “will bring up the issue with the U.S. side.”
The Pentagon, for its part, refused to provide any details regarding the reported operation in the disputed waters. It assured, however, that all of its operations are conducted in accordance with international law.
“All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Logan told Agence France-Presse.
Days earlier, the U.S., in a joint statement with Australia and Japan, denounced China’s militarization and island building in the South China Sea.
The three countries “expressed serious concerns over maritime disputes” in the area, they said on Monday, August 7.
They also urged all South China Sea claimants “to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarization of disputed features, and undertaking unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation.”
China, under its so-called nine dash line, has asserted its power over nearly the entire South China Sea. Beijing’s massive claim has been partly disputed by its neighboring countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is currently working with China on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the contested waters, aiming to prevent the escalation of maritime conflicts in the area.