3 U.S. carrier visits to Philippines show America cares – envoy

MANILA, Philippines – The 3 visits of US aircraft carriers to the Philippines this year show that America cares about the disputed South China Sea, said US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim as America celebrated its Independence Day. 

"I will note that just this year, we've had these 3 visits by US carriers, and I think that sends an important signal that we care about developments in this region, we care about developments in the South China Sea," Kim said in an interview with reporters Tuesday evening, July 3.

Kim was referring to aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson that visited the Philippines in February, aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt that docked in April, and nuclear-powered super carrier USS Ronald Reagan that arrived in June.

Seen as a show of force, these visits come as the US vows to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as China militarizes these waters. (READ: Why the US will fight for 'freedom of navigation' in the South China Sea)

Kim made his recent comments at the US embassy's reception at Makati Shangri-La, Manila, to celebrate America's 242nd Independence Day on Wednesday, July 4. (READ: US and Philippines: Friends, partners, and allies)

International law, freedom of navigation

In his interview with reporters, Kim stressed that the South China Sea situation "is obviously complicated," but the US position "has been very clear" and is not expected to change.

INDEPENDENCE DAY. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (left) and Papal Nuncio Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia (center) grace the US Independence Day event hosted by US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim on July 3, 2018.

Photo courtesy of US embassy

"We believe that all countries should act according to international law and principles. We believe freedom of navigation is an important way to protect our international rights and principles," Kim said.

In May, Duterte reportedly blamed the US for not doing enough to stop China's militarization of the South China Sea. 

Even as Duterte made these remarks, however, Kim said Duterte and US President Donald Trump "have a very strong relationship" and "share much in common," including their stance "on the importance of the rule of law."

On another issue, Kim said the US understands "that the drug issue is a huge challenge for the Philippines," and that the US is helping the country reduce the demand for illegal drugs, rehabilitate drug dependents, and improve law enforcement. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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