Nothing provocative in what the US is doing, says Aquino

The USS Lassen (right) with a Republic of Korea Navy ship during an exercise east of the Korean Peninsula in March. The US vessel yesterday went within 12 nautical miles of islands China has built on the Subi and Mischief reefs.
The USS Lassen (right) with a Republic of Korea Navy ship during an exercise east of the Korean Peninsula in March. The US vessel yesterday went within 12 nautical miles of islands China has built on the Subi and Mischief reefs.PHOTO: REUTERS
The USS Lassen (right) with a Republic of Korea Navy ship during an exercise east of the Korean Peninsula in March. The US vessel yesterday went within 12 nautical miles of islands China has built on the Subi and Mischief reefs.
PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO (above), on the US warship's sail-byPHOTO: REUTERS

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said China should not make an issue of a US warship's sail-by yesterday near two of its man-made islands in the South China Sea.

"I see no issue as this US naval ship is traversing under international law in waters that should be free to be travelled upon by a non-belligerent country," Mr Aquino said at a forum hosted by foreign correspondents here.

The US Navy yesterday sent the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen to within 12 nautical miles of islands that China has built on the Subi and Mischief reefs, drawing an angry rebuke from Beijing.

China's Foreign Ministry said the warship "illegally" entered Chinese waters, calling the US action "deliberate provocations". Subi and Mischief are part of a chain of seven massive islands that China has created across the Spratly archipelago.

The United States has expressed concern that these islands, with their air strips and mall-size garrisons, will allow China to control the US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in trade that passes through the South China Sea annually. China claims nearly the whole area, which the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are challenging.

NO ISSUE

I see no issue as this US naval ship is traversing under international law in waters that should be free to be travelled upon by a non-belligerent country.

PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO, on the US warship's sail-by

Mr Aquino said he does not see anything provocative in what the US is doing.

"If there are no hostile intentions being alluded to by any party, why should tensions be increasing in this particular portion of the world? So long as everybody conforms to the norms based on international customs and rules, regulations and laws, then there shouldn't be any problem," he said.

Asked if he was comfortable with the US Navy patrolling the South China Sea more often, President Aquino replied: "I think everybody would welcome a balance of power anywhere in the world."

He expressed confidence that this latest spat with China "has not overshadowed preparations" for the Apec summit in Manila next month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to confirm his attendance. There has been talk that he may snub the summit, as he is said to have been miffed by Mr Aquino's recent remarks likening China to Nazi Germany.

But Mr Aquino said he remained hopeful Mr Xi will attend, adding that Manila was very supportive when Beijing played host last year.

Mr Aquino said he is keen to have talks with Mr Xi to build on positive relations between their countries in the areas of trade and tourism.

"Obviously, it profits both to really be able to manage the issues that create a conflict between our two parties and to go back to a concentration on that which can be beneficial for both sides," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Nothing provocative in what the US is doing, says Aquino'. Print Edition | Subscribe