US ready to amp up navy amid China’s aggression in disputed waters

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Manila, Philippines — The United States Navy is prepared to build up its capabilities aside from increasing its patrols in the South China Sea, US National Security Advisor John Bolton said.

Speaking to reporters in Singapore, Bolton noted that Washington has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the region, irking China which has installed military outposts on its artificial islands in the area.

“Countries of Southeast Asia don’t want to be dominated by any external actor and we support that,” Bolton was quoted saying in a report by American news channel CNBC on Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump’s security advisor also warned Beijing that Washington would oppose any agreement among South China Sea claimants that would limit free passage to international shipping.

Prior to the ASEAN Summit in Singapore, Bolton warned Southeast Asian leaders, particularly the Philippines, who are in talks of possible joint exploration in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

Bolton also expressed concern over China’s hosting of joint military exercises with the 10-member regional bloc, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The said exercises might limit US military engagement with Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, according to Bolton.

Bolton, however, welcomed the ASEAN and China’s negotiations on a legally binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

“The outcome has to be mutually acceptable, and also has to be acceptable to all countries that have legitimate maritime and naval rights to transit and other associate rights that we don’t want to see infringed,” Bolton said.

Speaking ahead of the opening of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the South China Sea code should be finished in three years.

“It is China’s hope that the (code of conduct) consultation will be finished in three years’ time so that it will contribute to enduring peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Li said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, acting as coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogue relations, said the concerned parties are committed to the “expeditious conclusion” of the COC.

The ASEAN and China are looking forward to complete the first reading of the single draft of the COC negotiating text by 2019.

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