Unfair to blame US over China's militarization in disputed sea: US envoy

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2018 01:29 AM

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MANILA - The United States envoy to the Philippines has dismissed President Rodrigo Duterte's accusations that Washington failed to stop Beijing from militarizing islands in the South China Sea.

Ambassador Sung Kim said the US has been consistent in its calls against aggressive unilateral actions.

"China has obviously taken unilateral measures and in fact they have, they had indicated that they will refrain from militarization but it appears that they have not," Kim told ANC's Beyond Politics.

"I’m not sure if it's really fair to point a finger at the United States because we're not doing anything. It's China that's taking aggressive unilateral actions in the disputed area."

Duterte earlier warned against infuriating China, which he said was already “in possession” of South China Sea, as any “friction” in the disputed sea might erupt into a conflict that will affect peace and stability in the region.

The United States had stepped up its challenge to China’s growing dominance in the vital sea lane by sending ships and aircraft conducting freedom of navigation and overflight operations.

China, which has built islands in the disputed sea, has lashed out at the US for what it believes as encroachment of its territory.

Kim said the Philippines has been supportive of the US' freedom of navigation operations.

"In fact, all countries are because those operations are meant to protect international rights that are important to all countries, freedom of navigation, freedom of all flight," he said.

"We obviously hope that the dispute will be resolved peacefully according to international law. And we will do all we can so that international rights and principles are protected, even as claiming countries pursue their disputes."

Duterte has opted to downplay the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China in pursuit of improved economic ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

Kim said the Philippines' efforts to improve its ties with Beijing is "not at all surprising."

"China is a rising power. I think it makes sense for many countries in the region to try and make an effort to improve relations with China," he said.

"What I focus on is whether that’s affecting our relationship negatively and my sense is that it’s not. Our alliance is unique, the Philippines only has one military alliance and that’s with the United States and that has not changed and will not change."