A US vice admiral is said to have called for pushing Beijing back into the South China Sea.
The commander of the US Navy’s largest forward fleet has reportedly responded to a recent confrontation between Chinese and Filipino ships in the South China Sea by pledging to repel alleged aggression by Beijing forces in the area.
Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, assured the Philippines on Sunday of Washington’s support in the fight against Chinese forces. “aggressive behaviour,” Reuters reported. “My forces are here for a reason” he said, quoting the “shared challenges” faced by the United States and its Philippine ally.
Thomas made the comments about three weeks after an incident in which the Chinese Coast Guard deployed water cannons against Philippine vessels attempting to resupply a Manila warship that had intentionally beached on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea in 1999. The resupply mission was eventually completed. Tuesday, delivering food and other supplies to troops stationed on the World War II-era ‘Sierra Madre’ transport ship.
“You have to challenge people, I would say, who are in a gray area” Thomas told Reuters. “When they take a little more and push you, you have to fight back. You have to navigate and operate. He added, “There really is no better example of aggressive behavior than the August 5 activity on the shoal.”
Thomas spoke with Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, who leads the Western Command of the Philippines responsible for overseeing Manila’s interests in the South China Sea. “We certainly shared challenges” said the American commander. “So I wanted to better understand how he perceived the operations he’s responsible for, and I want to make sure he understood what I had available to me.”
The US Seventh Fleet, based in Japan, covers an area of operations spanning more than 124 million square kilometers in the Western Pacific, from the International Date Line to the Indo-Pakistan border. It has about 60 ships and submarines, as well as 140 aircraft and about 20,000 sailors. Its operational area encompasses half of the world’s population and the five largest military powers outside the United States, including Russia and China.
Tensions between the Philippines and China have escalated since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took over as president in Manila last year. Marcos forged closer defense ties with the United States and asserted his country’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. For example, the Philippines placed navigational buoys around the Spratly Islands in May, claiming an area over which Beijing claims sovereignty.
Chinese officials have warned that increased military cooperation with the United States will bind the Philippines. “on the chariot of geopolitical conflicts” jeopardizing the security of the country. Beijing and Washington have repeatedly accused each other of military provocations in the South China Sea.