US eyes greater presence

THE Philippine defense establishment welcomed the remark of the new commander of the United States Pacific Fleet that Washington is prepared to act against threats in the South China Sea.

Defense officials welcomed the reassurance of Admiral Scott Swift that the US Navy is “very interested” in increasing both drills and America’s presence in the region, largely in response to a perceived threat from China.

“The reason that people continue to ask about the long-term commitment and intentions of the Pacific Fleet is reflective really of all the uncertainty that has generated in the theater now,” Swift said while on a visit to Manila.

“If we had the entire United States Navy here in the region, I think people would still be asking, ‘Can you bring more?’,” he added

Yet, even without a military buildup in the region, Swift remains confident that the US is prepared to meet any conflict that should arise.

“[I am] very satisfied with the resources that I have available to me as the Pacific Fleet commander,” he said. “We are ready and prepared to respond to any contingency that the President may suggest would be necessary.”

Defense department spokesperson Dr. Peter Paul Galvez welcomed Swift’s remarks and said it showed US commitment to peace and stability in Asia.

“It’s always welcome to hear words of commitment from US officials particular as we face an oppressive neighbor,” Galvez said.

Philippine Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus C. Millan agreed with Galvez and said “his strong statement as Commander Pac Fleet indicates the US commitment to maintain stability in the region.”

“This is good for all those using the sea lanes, including us as freedom of navigation and overflight will be maintained,” Millan said.

Despite the fact that the United States lies over 8,000 miles away from the waters of the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy currently has four coastal combat ships operating in the contested waterway.

Over the past few months, Washington has also increased military exercises with a number of Pacific allies, including Japan, Australia, and the Philippines.

Nearly a trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea each year and while China claim most of the sea, it also has overlapping claims with Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

Beijing’s construction of artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago has left the U.S. and many of its allies concerned, even though China has repeatedly stated that the islands will largely serve humanitarian purposes, and any military installations are only there for defensive purposes.

In the last few months, Washington has conducted a number of military exercises with regional allies, moves seen as provocative by the Chinese government. Earlier this month, the U.S. began joint naval exercises with Singapore close to the South China Sea.

Only one week prior, the U.S. also engaged in war games with Japan and Australia in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Despite these demonstrations of military might, Swift reiterated that “the United States has been very clear that it does not support the use of coercion and force.”

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