While it welcomed the presence of the US Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG), the Department of National Defense (DND) stressed the need for restraint in order not to aggravate the already tense situation in the South China Sea amid the aggressive actions of China to assert its claim vrtually in the entire area.
Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong also appealed for calm from all the nations that are not only involved in the territorial dispute but also other countries which have been very vocal in China’s flexing of military muscle in the South China Sea.
“We recognize the right of other states to freedom of navigation on the high seas so long as all parties exercise restraint and avoid actions that could provoke and exacerbate the already tense situation in the region,” Andolong told the Manila Bulletin.
“We also urge all parties to maintain open lines of communication to prevent misunderstanding and miscalculations,” he added.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group — composed of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), Destroyer Squadron 23, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59) — entered South China Sea last April 4 to conduct “routine operations,” according to the US Navy’s 7th Fleet.
The entry of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in the tension-filled waters was the latest development in the evolving dispute between Manila and Beijing due to the apparent incursion of hundreds of Chinese vessels believed to be manned by maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea.
The US 7th Fleet said that the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group will conduct fixed and rotary-wing flight operations, maritime strike exercises, anti-submarine operations, coordinated and tactical training, and more” while in the South China Sea.
Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo also sees as a “welcome development” the presence of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea.
Prior to the entry of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had protested the continued presence of the Chinese trawlers at the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef.
He said that China is bent on occupying features and militarizing artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea like what it did at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef several years back.
Responding to Lorenzana, the Chinese Embassy had maintained that the reef, which it calls Niu’Jiao, is part of their Nansha Islands territory.
The Department of Foreign Affairs have since filed at least two diplomatic protests with China over the monitored vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef and their refusal to leave the area.