The United States (US) may soon deploy war ships near China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.
It wants to send a message that it does not recognize China’s territorial claims over the area.
This is according to a Financial Times report quoting a senior U.S. official who said its ships will sail within 12-nautical-mile zones that China claims as its territory around the Spratly Islands within the next two weeks.
The anonymous official said they’re waiting for the approval of President Barack Obama before taking action.
The United States considers the areas around Spratly Islands to be part of international water space, while China claims they’re within its waters.
What does this mean for the Philippines as one of the claimants?
Defense analyst Rommel Banlaoi said should Obama approve the proposal, the Philippines should brace for China’s strong reaction that may lead to the latter’s tougher actions in the disputed area.
“China can harden its position by increasing its military, paramilitary activities and even hamper Philippine activities in those disputed areas. And China has resources to do that,” Banlaoi said.
According to the Armed Forces, resupplying goods for troops aboard BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal has been more difficult because of Chinese presence in the area.
Banlaoi said the increased presence of US warships in South China Sea may deter China’s activities, which will benefit the Philippines.
But Banlaoi warned that if the US fails to deter China, the Philippines might suffer the consequences.
“It depends on how the United States will react but as far as I’m concerned, it’s better to let the major powers out of the issue and allow claimants to settle this peacefully since the Philippine government has already forwarded this case before the international arbitration,” said Banlaoi.
Malacañang said it will verify if the United States indeed plans to set sail near China’s artificial islands.
“We are aware of the reports that did carry this particular statement however in the interest of prudence, foreign affairs is currently undertaking to validate that said statement with the US side before we issue any comment considering how sensitive this situation is,” Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
US warships to dock in Philippine ports
According to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, the US has been patrolling in the disputed territories for years now. And the United States presence in the South China Sea is a way of ensuring freedom of navigation.
“Yan ay pinapakita na sumusunod sila sa rule of law. Ngayon yung paggawa ng amerika nyan ay karapatan nila dahil ginagawa, they have been doing this all alongkaya this will prove kung magkakaroon man ng challenge sa kanila then there is no freedom of navigation,” Gazmin told reporters.
Gazmin added US warships are free to dock in Philippine ports due to existing security and defense cooperation agreements.
Gazmin is scheduled to attend China-ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Beijing this October.
He said it’s possible that the West Philippine Sea issue will be taken up during the meeting.