MANILA — The United States is waiting for the Philippines' call for help to push back against Chinese incursion of its territorial waters, an envoy of Manila said on Tuesday.
The Pentagon is communicating with the Philippine military and recently deployed aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt to the South China Sea, said Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.
The West Philippine Sea is within the larger South China Sea. Some 240 ships are allegedly massing within the Philippine territorial waters.
"We are working round the clock, so to speak, in terms of being able to navigate or make sure that there’s the freedom of the seas, and code of conduct that we’re pushing," Romualdez said in a press briefing.
"At the same time, the United States is obviously waiting for us to call them if we need their assistance in removing or asking the vessels that are parked in our area of responsibility, our economic zone [to leave]," he added.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque, who facilitated the briefing with Romualdez, said he was "not sure" what the envoy meant.
"I don’t want to put words in his mouth," he said.
Instead, Roque said the US failed to aid the Philippines when it lost features in the waterway twice, during the previous administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
Aquino's government initiated an arbitration case against China over its standoff with the Philippines in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea. A United-Nations backed court in 2016 junked Beijing's "historical" claims over the waterway.
President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to press Beijing to comply with an arbitration ruling. Instead, he sought to build an alliance with China, having been promised billions of dollars of loans and investments, much of which have yet to materialize.
But Duterte said on Monday he was prepared to send military ships in the sea to "stake a claim" over oil and mineral resources.
"I'm not so much interested now in fishing. I don't think there's enough fish to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim," Duterte said in a late night public address.
"If they start drilling oil there, I will tell China, is that part of our agreement? If that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill oil there," he said even as he reiterated he wanted to remain friends with Beijing.
Duterte "made it very clear" to China that "there is a limit to our friendship," said his spokesman.
– With a report from Reuters
Video courtesy of PTV