October 19, 2023
MANILA – More similar cooperation can be expected between the Philippines and the United States as the latter intends to maintain the rule of law in the South China Sea, according to US Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson.
“The United States will set sail, fly and operate everywhere international law allows, and that includes sailing in the South China Sea, in combination with our friends and partners, and especially the Philippines,” Carlson said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
She made the remarks as a US defense official reported that Chinese warplanes had intercepted American aircraft in nearly 200 incidents in the East and South China Seas regions over the last two years—way more than in the previous decade. According to Carlson, the maritime cooperation between Manila and Washington has made significant progress in the past year, including the trilateral Coast Guard exercise among the Philippines, US and Japan in June and the recently concluded “Sama Sama” naval exercises held this month.
During the joint exercises, the participants’ coast guards and navies sailed in the West Philippine Sea near the shores of Palawan and not deeper into the country’s exclusive economic zone where Chinese vessels stacking their claims over the South China Sea patrol.
“I expect to see more of that in the future. And I welcome that. I think it’s very important for the US and the Philippines to work together in the maritime domain,” Carlson said.
Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, a staunch critic of China’s expansionist claims, said the Philippines and the US should continue doing more exercises.
“Joint patrols should be in our [exclusive economic zone], especially Reed Bank,” Carpio added, referring to the government’s plan to conduct a survey mission to the area to harvest natural gases for energy.
He earlier suggested that the Philippine mission be escorted by the US Navy to deter Chinese interference as Beijing has also laid claim to the natural gas reserves.
But while Carlson said that Washington was open to such a proposal, there were no official talks yet at the “policy and senior level that would indicate that’s on the table right now.”
On Tuesday, the Pentagon released footage of some of the 180 intercepts of US fighter jets by Chinese aircraft that depicted recent cases of “coercive and risky operational behavior” as part of a broader, soon-to-be-released Chinese Military Power Report.
One of the declassified photos showed a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighter jet crossing in front of a US aircraft at a distance of 100 yards, forcing the latter to fly through the Chinese plane’s wake turbulence.‘Reckless maneuvers’
“Since the fall of 2021, we have seen more than 180 such incidents: More in the past two years than in the decade before that,” said Ely Ratner, the assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs.
“That’s nearly 200 cases where PLA operators have performed reckless maneuvers, or discharged chaff, or shot off flares, or approached too rapidly or too close to US aircraft,” he added.
According to Ratner, the number increases to nearly 300 when taken together with cases against US allies and partners over the last two years.
On Monday, Chinese fighter jets intercepted a Canadian military plane at a distance of five meters over international waters off the coast of China while it was taking part in a United Nations operation to enforce sanctions against North Korea. Canadian Defense Minister Bill Blair described the incident as “dangerous and reckless.”
Adm. John Aquilino, US Indo-Pacific Command commander, stressed the need for open lines of communication between the two militaries to keep peace and stability in the region as the Chinese behavior in international airspace was raising chances of an accident.