MANILA — Experts on Friday hailed the recent group sail of the Philippines, the United States, Japan, and India in the South China Sea that was seen as a flexing of muscles against China’s dominance in the contested waterway.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the cooperative sail was a display of a stronger security relationship among the four nations, as well as their alignment in protecting freedom of the seas.
“The signal there is that these countries are aligned along certain values. So, if China sees certain things, it might get the message that it cannot simply change those values or counter them considering this alignment,” Batongbacal told ABS-CBN News.
The four navies coming together was the first amid China’s continuous intrusive expansion in the vital sea lane.
The Philippines has claims to the resource-rich South China Sea and recently complained of Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone in the waters. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have partial claims.
“They should be doing similar exercises regularly because there are many other areas of cooperation that they can engage in, like search and rescue, etc. It doesn’t have to be about the South China Sea only,” Batongbacal said.
Meanwhile, Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies, described the group sail as a fresh challenge to China.
“This is conveying a message to China that these major powers will not allow China’s dominance in the South China Sea and they want to maintain the principle that the South China Sea should have freedom of navigation and shall not be dominated by any single power,” he said.
In a press conference in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang maintained that countries should observe its activities in the waterway.
“I’d like to emphasize that as a principle, relevant countries’ policies on and actions in a region should be serving, instead of undermining, the region’s peace, stability and development,” Geng was quoted as saying in a translated transcript.
On May 2 to 8, a Philippine patrol vessel, a US guided missile destroyer, two Japanese aircraft carriers, and two Indian naval ships transited international waters from Busan, South Korea to Changi, Singapore after participating the first phase of the ASEAN-Plus Defense Ministers’ Meeting Maritime Security Field Training Exercise 2019.
According to the US 7th Fleet, the ships conducted formation exercises, communication drills, passenger transfers, and leadership exchange.
In a separate statement, the Philippine Navy noted that the ships sailed through international waters, citing freedom of navigation.
The Navy added that the Philippines is committed to fulfilling its diplomatic role while engaging other navies to better operate in a multilateral environment.
“The group sail showed the active participation of the Philippine Navy as it strengthens its relationships with allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region. This gives us another opportunity to learn from like-minded navies,” Navy Capt. Roy Vincent Trinidad, who led the Philippine delegation, said.