MANILA - Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez is urging the United States to conduct more frequent freedom of navigation (FON) operations or patrols in the South China Sea to deter Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, Rodriguez noted that a US Navy carrier strike group entered the South China Sea last April 4 amid strong protests from the Philippines on the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in Juan Felipe Reef, which is inside the Philippine 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
"Two FON patrols in more than three months. They should criss-cross that area more often to challenge China’s claim over most of the South China Sea, including international waters and a large part of the Philippine EEZ,” Rodriguez said.
“They should support their statements of support for the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea dispute with actual actions on the ground,” he added.
Rodriguez said more South China Sea crossings could deter further Chinese incursions in the Philippine EEZ and threats to other US allies in the region.
“That would also show the readiness of the United States to come to the aid of the Philippines in case of conflict as provided under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries,” he added.
China and the United States have sailed aircraft carriers into contentious waters in the East and South China seas, the latest maritime contest between the strategic rivals at a time of heightened tensions in the region.
On Sunday, a US aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt entered the South China Sea from the Strait of Malacca, according to the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, citing satellite data.
It said the USS Mustin guided-missile destroyer was also operating in the East China Sea and edged close to China’s Yangtze River on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Chinese aircraft carrier the Liaoning passed through the Miyako Strait off southwestern Japan on Saturday, days after China’s defense ministry urged Japan to “stop all provocative moves” over the contested Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which Tokyo calls the Senkakus.
Around 200 Chinese vessels have been monitored since March 7 at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Philippine officials have demanded the withdrawal of the ships, with a retired Supreme Court judge warning their presence may be a prelude to occupation and building of a naval base as China did on Mischief Reef in 1995.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had denied allegations the vessels are part of Beijing's militia, describing them as fishing vessels taking shelter due to “rough sea conditions.” It also insisted that the reef is part of their territory.
Rodriguez has also called for stronger and more explicit statements on the West Philippine Sea issue on the part of the US.
“Professions of support for Manila in very general language no longer suffice and are just being ignored by the party to which they are directed. There has to be a more direct statement or a warning that the other party will understand,” he said.