The Philippines government defended on Tuesday a top United States Navy official’s maritime surveillance mission in the contested West Philippine Sea amid criticisms from rival China. US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift said he was on board a Boeing P-8 surveillance plane for seven hours when it conducted overflights at the disputed waters, a move that has irked Beijing, which asserts ownership over nearly the entire sea.
Manila said it does not see anything wrong with the surveillance flight.
“They were flying over international airspace so they have every right to exercise freedom of overflight,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told a press briefing.
Swift’s mission, a Chinese defense ministry statement said, “seriously damaged mutual trust” between China and the US.
The South China Sea, which is teeming with abundant marine resources and where natural gas and oil have been found in several areas, is claimed in whole or in parts by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Overlapping claims over the waters, where a bulk of the world’s trade pass, are feared to be Asia’s next potential flashpoint for military conflict.
Manila sought international arbitration to denigrate China’s claim which extends beyond what it is allowed under international law.