PH won't join US-India-Japan naval exercises in S. China Sea

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2016 04:06 PM

A U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) comes ashore as U.S. Marines train with Japan's Ground Self Defense Force soldiers during the bilateral annual Iron Fist military training exercise in Camp Pendleton, California February 26, 2016. Reuters

MANILA - Malacañang on Sunday stressed that the Philippines will not join the planned naval exercises of India, the United States and Japan in the contested South China Sea (SCS), a move likely to further raise tensions with Beijing.

In a text message to ABS-CBN News, Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said: "The reported joint naval exercises near the SCS does not involve the Philippines in any way."

Coloma said that promoting regional stability through the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea is the government's primary concern.

"Deterrence against aggressive actions, not rising tensions, is the country's primary concern. The Philippines believes that regional stability is achieved when the rule of law is upheld," he said.

"Hence, we have joined cause with ASEAN in advocating the adoption of a legally binding Code of Conduct on the SCS."

The U.S. military on Wednesday announced plans for the joint naval exercises a day after Washington warned China against militarization of the South China Sea.

READ: US warns China on militarization of South China Sea

Last year, India and the United States expanded their annual naval drills in the Bay of Bengal to include Japan after a gap of eight years, in a move seen as a response to China's growing assertiveness in the region.

Reuters reported that Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the naval exercise will be held in the northern Philippine Sea and that Japan will take part.

Freedom of the seas was a fundamental right of all nations, Harris told a security conference in New Delhi, adding some thinly veiled criticism of Beijing.

"While some countries seek to bully smaller nations through intimidation and coercion, I note with admiration India's example of peaceful resolution of disputes with your neighbors in the waters of the Indian Ocean, " he said.

Asked about the drills, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "We hope the cooperation of relevant countries will benefit regional peace and security, and not harm the interests of third parties."

Tensions in the South China Sea have risen recently, with the United States and others protesting against Beijing's land reclamation in the Spratly islands, along with the recent deployment of surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets in the Paracel Islands.

Along with China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

The Philippines continues to affirm its sovereign claim through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

(READ: Manila attacks Beijing S. China Sea claims in court case)

(READ: Palace confident in S. China Sea arbitration case)

The arbitration court's decision is expected in May or June. -- With a report from Reuters