“We think that it’s important for us and other ASEAN nations as well as the Philippines to emphasise that we will do whatever we need to do in order to protect the principle of freedom of navigation, particularly in the West Philippine Sea,” McCain said.
“I believe that the best way to make sure that we have peace in the region is with a strong military presence, strong alliances and a message being sent to everyone that the best way for every nation, including China, to achieve their goal is peacefully,” McCain said during a press conference at the US embassy.
McCain said he does not foresee a confrontation with China “if we maintain a strong military presence and strong alliances in the region such as we have with the Philippines that would lead to a peaceful region. If there is indeed a withdrawal of the US then I believe that that would mean a lessening of stability in the region."
“We don’t foresee a conflict or confrontation with China but we do believe it’s very necessary that we work very closely together and other nations, particularly ASEAN, to make sure peace and security prevail in this region of the world,” he added.
McCain and the other senators used the preferred local name when referring to the disputed sea, which has some of the world’s most heavily traveled sea lanes. The region is believed to have vast oil and gas reserves and also provides abundant fishing. China says it owns practically the entire sea based on a centuries-old map. But the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to part or all of the sea.
Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He says keeping peace and order means always being ready for war.
“China has made claims over the West Philippine Sea – the South China Sea – that I don’t accept and I know the Philippine government doesn’t accept,” said Lieberman. “The question is how do we reconcile those differences? I think we have a better chance of reconciling them peacefully, as Senator McCain says, if we both strengthen the Philippine military and we continue, and I hope even expand, our presence here on the waters here.”
Lieberman pointed to the installation in the Philippines in August of a used American Hamilton-class cutter that is now the country’s largest military ship. The Philippines is expected to take possession of another one this year and two more in the future. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar patrols waters along a natural gas drilling project in the South China Sea.
China has expressed displeasure numerous times about U.S. input on the disputes in the South China Sea, such as vocal support for multilateral talks among claimant countries. China continues to emphasise one-on-one talks with each party as the Chinese government wants bilateral negotiations to resolve the longstanding conflicts. It has warned non-claimants led by the United States from intervening.
Earlier this month, the Philippines protested what it calls intrusions in mid-December by Chinese vessels and a military ship into waters it says were well within the country’s exclusive economic zone. The United Nations designates an exclusive economic zone as a 370 kilometer area beyond a country’s coastline. China called the protest baseless.
Last year, the Philippines cited about nine instances of alleged Chinese intrusions into its waters. One allegation accused Chinese boats of harassing an oil exploration ship. China has repeatedly said there were no intrusions.
The lawmakers also stated the world economy is shifting in Asia with the Philippines as one of the major leaders in the region.