MANILA, Aug 28 (Mabuhay) — The United States will continue sailing in the South China Sea to exercise its “freedom of navigation” and to reassure its allies that Washington is committed to maintaining a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, a ranking US Navy official said Thursday.

“(The) US Navy has 38 ships underway today in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the South China Sea… We continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international laws allow to demonstrate our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific while reassuring our allies and partners,” US Navy Vice Admiral Scott Conn, commander of the US Third Fleet, said in a teleconference.

The statement came following reports that Beijing on Wednesday fired two missiles into the South China Sea a day after a US spy plane reportedly entered a “no-fly zone” during a Chinese military drill.

Conn said US forces continue to monitor the exercises throughout the region, including this reported ballistic missile tests in the contested waters.

“Our naval forces remain ready to respond to any threats to our allies and partners throughout the region,” he said.


Meanwhile, Conn highlighted the ongoing Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) event off Hawaii, the world’s largest maritime exercise which runs from Aug. 17 to 30.

Conn said the event demonstrates the “value of capable and adaptive maritime partners” in terms of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

“RIMPAC is about building trust and strengthening relationships. It’s designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships, critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. “If you look at the amount of trade that transits the world’s oceans and how important that is to all of our economies and our people, it’s having our likeminded navies ensuring that that free flow of goods continues to traverse our seas.”

The RIMPAC 2020 is comprised of navies from Australia, Brunei, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, and the United States, represented by 22 surface ships, one submarine, and approximately 5,300 men and women presently at sea.

Conn said Washington is glad that Manila participated in the event as represented by its missile frigate BRP Jose Rizal.

“That group of sailors, led by their captain, is doing a phenomenal job… And that team is doing a very, very good job,” he said. “We continue to stress our free and open values, and we are just more than happy to have Philippines here with us this year.” (MNS)

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