Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 29) — The United States will maintain its presence in the South China Sea, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday, amid moves by China to exclude the country from proposed joint military exercises and energy exploration in the disputed seas.
“The United States has been part of this region for 200 years. We’re not gonna change that,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Walter Douglas told reporters.
“We’re not going away. So it’s important that our role be recognized that we’re here,” added Douglas, who is in the country to discuss the U.S.-Indo-Pacific strategy.
He said the United States has growing ties in the region “based on demographics alone that keep us very involved here.”
A report by Agence France Presse earlier this month bared that the draft of the code of conduct in the South China Sea being negotiated by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) contains Beijing’s proposal to exclude countries outside the region from military exercises and energy exploration.
It is understood that China was referring to the United States.
The draft document outlines different countries’ “bargaining positions” as they work towards an agreement in the area, the report said. China and ten members of ASEAN have been working for years on a code of conduct to govern behavior and rules in the disputed area.
“A code of conduct that is in line with international law is what we want,” Douglas added. “And that’s how it should be.”
The Philippines is one of the four ASEAN members with rival claims against China over islands in the contested waters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said it hopes the two countries will set aside their feuds when they undertake joint energy exploration.
$60 million aid
The deputy assistant secretary is in the country to shed light on the U.S.-Indo Pacific strategy, which involves investing $113 million or roughly P6 billion in the region.
The said budget will support the areas of digital economy, energy, as well as infrastructure— in efforts to boost economic growth.
Douglas revealed the U.S. will also provide an additional $60 million or P3.2 billion assistance to the Philippines to “boost security cooperations” in the Indo-Pacific region.
This aid shall be meanwhile used, according to Douglas, for peacekeeping and maritime domain awareness.
“The country that receives the largest chunk, as far as I understand, is the Philippines,” Douglas noted.
“It’s really a recognition of the long-term partnership we’ve had with the Philippines on the security front, in addition to the other things.”