United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim has reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to preserving freedom of navigation and flight in the South China Sea.
Kim made the statement amid reports that U.S. President Donald Trump is disregarding China’s supposed incursions in the disputed sea as part of pursuing the country’s cooperation in stopping North Korea’s nuclear activities.
“I have not seen such reporting but what I can say is our basic position has not changed,” Kim told reporters on Sunday, May 7 on the sidelines of the 75th anniversary of Corregidor’s fall during World War II.
Kim stressed that the freedom of navigation and flight in the South China Sea is not only a concern of the U.S. but of the international community as well.
“We continue to believe protecting freedom of navigation is not just a U.S. issue but it’s for the whole international community,” the envoy said.
Last week, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had turned down a U.S. Pacific Command request to permit U.S. warships to sail within 12 nautical miles of the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
The newspaper also said in its report that no U.S. ship has gone within 12 miles of any of the disputed islands in the sea since Trump assumed the presidency earlier this year.
Quoting a certain analyst, CNN reported that this may have been part of Trump’s strategy to get China’s support against North Korea’s nuclear threats.
Kim, however, dismissed such reports, saying that Washington’s stance “has not changed.”
“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,” Kim said.
Sought for comments, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana doused speculations that the decreased American forces would affect the presence of Filipino troops in the Philippine-controlled Spratlys in the South China Sea.
“I don’t think so. We can still go to our [forces] in Pag-asa,” Lorenzana said.
Also referred to as Tithu Island, Pag-asa is the largest Philippine-controlled island among the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys.
“We hope that freedom of navigation is maintained there,” Lorenzana added. (AJPress)