No changing of maps, US says, as aircraft carrier sails in disputed sea

Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2018 02:14 PM | Updated as of Feb 26 2018 05:03 PM

ON BOARD THE USS CARL VINSON - The presence of this aircraft carrier in the South China Sea sends a signal that there should be no changing of maps in waters disputed by China and several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, US Navy officials said.

The nuclear-powered vessel patrolled the resource-rich waters manly to promote freedom of navigation and trade as well as strengthen diplomatic ties between Washington and its allies, said its commanding officer, Capt. Douglas Verissimo.

"We want to keep laws and norms in place, that we don't change the map along the way to avoid the frictions. As we change maps it causes new frictions and new issues," Verissimo told reporters.

"We are certainly here to keep the norms and customs that we have been used to in the last 50 years. We don't want to change that, I think we are trying to influence that," he said.

Several media crews, including ABS-CBN, were granted access to the ship over the weekend.

China has built massive structures fit for military use on reefs and outcrops in the South China Sea, stoking tensions in the region where $5 trillion in trade passes annually.

The US is "not picking sides" even as promotes international law, said Rear Adm. John Fuller, commanding officer of the ship's Carrier Air Strike.

"You can call it presence operations, where you are just routinely operating and navigating water space freely in accordance with international laws standards and norms," said ship spokesman Lt. Cdr Timothy Hawkins.

The ship recently docked in Manila. It officers met with Filipino officials while its crew helped in humanitarian relief for those displaced by the rumbling Mayon Volcano.

Washington's ties with Manila are unaffected by President Rodrigo Duterte's policy shift away from the US, said Verissimo.

"Governments change, moods change, but over all, we offer with very few strings attached," he said.

The USS Carl Vinson's presence also is not related to tensions in the Korean Peninsula, officials said.

"We are not trying to send a specific position other than we are operating international waters, we are exercising that freedom of navigation," Verissimo said.