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U.S., Australia, Japan navies sail in PH as China parades might

MANILA, Philippines – About 300 Filipino government officials, military officers, businessmen, diplomats, and journalists boarded a massive US aircraft carrier in Manila Bay Friday night, April 13, for a reception hosted by US ambassador Sung Kim.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, the flagship of US Navy Carrier Strike Group 9, arrived in Manila on April 11, the same day China began drills in the South China Sea. The reception aboard the carrier was held only hours after China ended the drills with a large naval parade that Chinese President Xi Jinping himself witnessed.

Two Australian warships and a Japanese destroyer also arrived in nearby Subic Bay for innocent but curiously timed port visits. 

US Navy Rear Admiral Stephen Koehler, commander of the Strike Group 9, said it is important to make sure that the "sea is a rightful place for everybody."

"Sailing in the South China Sea continues to be a great opportunity to ensure freedom of commerce and ensure that the sea is a rightful place for everybody. All the navies that we’ve sailed with here, and it’s been plenty, continue to do that," Koehler told Rappler.


US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Manial Bay on April 11, 2018

Alliance: US, Australia, Japan

The US, Australia, and Japan are allies in fighting for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea – an important trade route – where China insists sovereignty. 

The Royal Australian Navy's long range guided missile frigate HMAS Anzac and auxillary oiler replenishment HMAS Success arrived on April 11 for a 5-day goodwill visit. 

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Akizuki-class destroyer JS AKIZUKI arrived in Subic Bay on April 13 for a 3-day goodwill visit. 

The USS Roosevelt is the second US aircraft carrier to visit Manila this year, following USS Carl Vinson last month. It's a testament to the importance of the Philippines to the US, said Kim.

"We are thrilled that USS Roosevelt is visiting the Philippines. I think it's a very clear reflection of our commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, commitment to the US-Philippine alliance, partnership, friendship and also our commitment to promoting and protecting very important rights, principles and values like freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce, and freedom of flight," Kim told Rappler during the reception.


Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and business tycoon Jaime Zobel de Ayala are among the guests during the reception aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, and business tycoon Jaime Zobel de Ayala were among the guests. Representatives of other embassies and foreign military attaches were also present.

Koehler also hosted a small group of Philippine generals aboard the carrier in the South China Sea before arriving in Manila Bay on April 11.

US envoy: I'm pleased with the alliance

The Philippines, located strategically between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, is a longtime ally of the US. But geopolitics in the region changed when President Rodrigo Duterte sought warmer ties with China, and for a time threatened to scrap treaties with the US in the wake of criticisms over his brutal campaign against drug use.

The US-Philippines alliance survived and Duterte expressed a liking for US President Donald Trump, a positive development if only for the survival of the ties. 

The annual US-Philippines Balikatan war games will be held next month. Australia and Japan will also participate.

The US and Australia have visiting forces agreements with the Philippines, a treaty also previously contemplated with Japan.

"I’m very pleased with the state of our alliance in general," said Kim. Our exercises are continuing. Planning for Balikatan this year has been well underway for many months now. I expect that it will be a very productive exercise this year as it was last year," said Kim. (READ: How are US-PH ties under the Duterte? 'Terrific,' says envoy)

Personnel of the USS Theodore Roosevelt will participate in cultural exchanges and community relations. The US embassy said the carrier, after departing Manila, will continue on its deployment to the Western Pacific.

The Australian and Japan navies will hold various engagements with the Philippine Navy. –