Important for US Navy to maintain presence in Asia-Pacific region, says commander of carrier group

Rear-Admiral Steve Koehler said he thinks " operating here in the South China Sea or anywhere in the maritime commons basically sends the message that these are open for free trade".
Rear-Admiral Steve Koehler said he thinks " operating here in the South China Sea or anywhere in the maritime commons basically sends the message that these are open for free trade".PHOTO: LIM MIN ZHANG

SINGAPORE - It is important for the United States Navy to maintain its presence in the Asia-Pacific region to send a message that the "maritime commons" are open for free trade, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 9, Rear-Admiral Steve Koehler, has said.

"I think operating here in the South China Sea or anywhere in the maritime commons basically sends the message that these are open for free trade, and the opportunity for all to sail in accordance to international law," he told reporters aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, in the southern reaches of the South China Sea on Saturday (Apr 7).

Without mentioning specifically the tensions in the waterway, he added: "The bottom-line is that you can bring a carrier strike group like this with its ships and navies and say, we can operate professionally in this environment and do that in accordance with international law, with good seamanship and have everyone operate together."

The aircraft carrier was accompanied by the missile-guided destroyer, USS Sampson, and the missile-guided cruiser, USS Bunker Hill.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.6 trillion) worth of goods pass every year, and has been building up its military assets in the region. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the waterway.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt is in the penultimate month of its regularly-scheduled seven-month deployment to the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific regions. The group is expected to head back home to San Diego, in California, on the US west coast, by the first week of May.

The carrier group spent four days in Singapore - its first visit here - moored at RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base from Monday (April 2). It held ship tours and key leader engagements with visitors at the invitation of the US Embassy.

On the significance of the USS Theodore Roosevelt's first port visit to Singapore, its commanding officer Captain Carlos Sardiello said: "I have come to Singapore multiple times and it's about cooperation, (the) bilateral relationships that we have. It's longstanding and it is strong.

"And our carriers are interchangeable. It doesn't matter which one it is, we continue to support that bilateral relationship and I think it's strong and effective."

The US vessels concluded a two-day passage exercise with the Republic of Singapore Navy in the southern reaches of the South China Sea within international waters on Saturday (Apr 7).