US war­ship cruises dis­puted sea in Philip­pine war games

Sun.Star Pampanga - - NATION! -

A US war­ship laden with hi-tech fighter planes took cen­tre stage at key war games in the Philip­pines Thurs­day, bran­dish­ing mil­i­tary might as fresh ten­sions bub­ble in the con­tentious South China Sea.

The am­phibi­ous as­sault ship USS Wasp, with at least 10 F-35B stealth jets on deck, stood guard as am­phibi­ous tanks rolled onto a Philip­pine beach lo­cated a short sail from is­lands also claimed by China.

The ves­sel was in the area for long-run­ning USPhilip­pine mil­i­tary drills, which come as Manila pushes back against the re­cent pres­ence of hun­dreds of Chi­nese ships near its Pag-asa (Thitu) i sl and.

"We can't dis­close the of­fi­cial move­ments of the USS Wasp for se­cu­rity rea­sons, but they have been op­er­at­ing in the South China Sea re­gion... as part of the ex­er­cise," US spokes­woman Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Tori Sharpe told re­porters.

Pres­i­dent Rodrigo Duterte had largely set aside the once-tense dis­pute over China's ex­pan­sive claims to the re­sourcerich water­way, but told Bei­jing last week to back off over the "swarm­ing" Chi­nese boats.

The Philip­pines called the boats' pres­ence "il­le­gal" and Duterte threat­ened China with pos­si­ble mil­i­tary ac­tion if it touches the is­land.

China claims most of the sea, in­clud­ing wa­ters and is­lands close to the shores of its neigh­bours. It has built artificial is­lands and mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions that the US warned could cur­tail right of pas­sage by nonChi­nese ves­sels.

The Philip­pines, Brunei, Malaysia, Tai­wan and Viet­nam have also all staked claims to var­i­ous is­lands and reefs in the sea that is thought to have rich petroleum re­serves deep be­neath its wa­ters.

The Wasp's par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ex­er­cises rep­re­sents "an in­crease in mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity com­mit­ted to a free and open Indo-Pa­cific re­gion," the US navy said in a press re­lease on its ar­rival last week.

The two-week Ba­likatan (Shoul­der-to-shoul­der) ex­er­cises, which opened April 1, in­clude some 4,000 Philip­pine, 3,500 Amer­i­can, and 50 Aus­tralian tr oops.

A US V-22 Osprey takes off from the USS Wasp sur­ing am­phibi­ous land­ing ex­er­cises as part of the an­nual joint US-Philip­pines mil­i­tary ex­er­cise

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