Manila, Philippines – The Philippines on Sunday hailed what it termed growing international support for its efforts to counter China’s claims to most of the South China Sea.
The comments from a presidential spokesman came as the US Pacific Fleet released photographs of its commander in a surveillance flight over the sea, where tension is rising between Manila and Beijing.
Herminio Coloma, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, said that “there are additional voices supporting our move for a peaceful resolution to the debate over… the South China Sea.”
He said many nations agreed that the dispute “must go through legal process as signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”.
“We welcome the growing support for the position of our country,” Coloma told reporters, citing the European Union, Australia, Japan and fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Coloma also cited recent remarks by leading US senators such as John McCain, praising the Philippine efforts to resolve the matter peacefully and calling on the United States to continue to maintain peace in the region.
The Philippines earlier this month argued its case before a UN-backed tribunal in the Hague, challenging China’s claim over most of the resource-rich sea.
China has refused to take part in the proceedings and called on the Philippines to agree to bilateral talks instead.
The Philippines and other countries have also recently raised alarm at China’s reclamation of outcrops in the Sea to create islands that could house military facilities.
China claims most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its neighbors.
The Philippines, as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, all have their own claims.
The Philippines, which has one of the region’s weakest militaries, has been improving defense ties with its close ally the United States.
In an apparent sign of the continued alliance, the US Pacific Fleet released photographs on its website on Sunday of its commander, Admiral Scott Swift, aboard a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft, flying a “seven-hour maritime surveillance mission” over the South China Sea on Saturday as part of his recent visit to the Philippines.
It was not stated which parts of the sea the US commander flew over.
The Philippines said Thursday it would reopen a US naval base that was closed more than 20 years ago, stationing its own military hardware at Subic Bay facing the South China Sea.