US airs concern anew over developments in WPS

The United States remains concerned over developments in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a visiting US official to Manila said Wednesday.

“We have long been concerned about developments in the South China Sea that threatens stability, security and the peace among the nations that are connected to this part of the world,” Patrick Murphy, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia, said in a roundtable discussion at The Peninsula, Makati.

Murphy made the remark when he was asked how US views China’s reported installation of missiles in three outposts at the contested West Philippine Sea.

Murphy said they are not a claimant country, but US is an “interested party” in the region.

“What I can say more broadly for the United States as a Pacific nation, the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea is a very important territory for many nations in the region.”

“Almost half of the world’s trade and commerce transit through the South China Sea and all of us have interest in abiding by international law to exert our freedom of navigation, our freedom of overflight and the right to unimpeded commerce,” he added.

The US official expressed hopes that the disputes will be resolved “peacefully and in accordance with international law.”

Murphy said that the principles the parties have agreed on in the past are important. But aside from adhering to these and pursuing dialogue, among others, parties must cease all kinds of activities that increase tensions, or raise the possibility of conflict in the sea lane, he said.

These activities, he said, include the construction, reclamation and militarization in the area.

On May 2, a news network citing US intelligence sources, reported that China installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its fortified outposts in the contested waters.

With recent reports of militarization, Murphy said this “would suggest that past commitments are being violated.”

He pointed out there are commitments not to militarize, “commitments that have been made publicly and privately to the United States and other parties.”

“As we may hear, there are ongoing process between ASEAN and China (on) a dialogue that produces a Code of Conduct (in the South China Sea),” he added.

Murphy said that America is supportive of this progress, seeing this important dialogue is quite inclusive, however, “the militarization that has been evident for some time threatens to undermine that dialogue because it puts in the question of good faith of parties coming to the table to try and put together a Code that is binding, that is transparent and can help resolve some of these issues in (the) South China Sea.”

China, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei have overlapping claims on some features in Kalayaan Island Group, located in the West Philippine Sea. The area is believed to have deposits of oil and natural gases.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque last week said the reported construction being done by China is “not new construction” since what Beijing promised is that they would not make new reclamation or artificial islands.

Murphy is in the Philippines to meet with task forces that work on the issue of West Philippine Sea and the reconstruction of Marawi City.

While he did not dropped names, Murphy said he already met with some officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs. PNA