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US warship cruises disputed sea in Philippine war games

AFP  |  Manila 

A US warship laden with hi-tech fighter planes took centre stage at key war games in the Thursday, brandishing military might as fresh tensions bubble in the contentious Sea.

The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, with at least 10 F-35B stealth jets on deck, stood as amphibious tanks rolled onto a located a short sail from islands also claimed by

The vessel was in the area for long-running US-Philippine military drills, which come as pushes back against the recent presence of hundreds of Chinese ships near its Pag-asa (Thitu) island.

"We can't disclose the official movements of the USS Wasp for security reasons, but they have been operating in the Sea region... as part of the exercise," US told reporters.

had largely set aside the once-tense dispute over China's expansive claims to the resource-rich waterway, but told last week to back off over the "swarming" Chinese boats.

The called the boats' presence "illegal" and Duterte threatened China with possible military action if it touches the island.

China claims most of the sea, including waters and islands close to the shores of its neighbours. It has built artificial islands and military installations that the US warned could curtail right of passage by non-Chinese vessels.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and have also all staked claims to various islands and reefs in the sea that is thought to have rich petroleum reserves deep beneath its waters.

The Wasp's participation in the exercises represents "an increase in military capability committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific region," the US navy said in a press release on its arrival last week.

The two-week Balikatan (Shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises, which opened April 1, include some 4,000 Philippine, 3,500 American, and 50 Australian troops.

Duterte had threatened to quit the drills as part of his pivot away from former colonial master the US and toward China, but they have carried on after being toned down for a few years.

As Duterte has adopted a friendlier stance with China, the US has moved to shore up its ties with and assert its presence in the Sea.

US pledged in March to come to the Philippines' defence in case of an "armed attack" in the sea, a clear assurance leaders had long sought.

Duterte has been criticised at home as being too eager to grow ties with Beijing, and giving up too much leverage on the Sea issue.

China has been reserved in its comments regarding Manila's recent uptick in assertiveness over the Pag-asa island, saying that it was working with the Philippines and looking into the reports regarding Chinese ships.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, April 11 2019. 15:10 IST