The captain of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George Washington Thursday said the U.S. Navy’s presence in Asia would help safeguard the “freedom of navigation,” alluding to China’s claims of sovereignty over international waters in the region, the AFP reported.
"One of the reasons we deploy throughout the region is so we can carry forth the banner of freedom of navigation. It is very important to us given the trade that travels throughout the region on the seas," Captain Gregory Fenton was quoted as saying by the AFP.
He added that the U.S. was not taking sides in the sea disputes between several Asian nations but would make sure that the sea routes remained open.
Fenton said the supercarrier, which is on a port call to Manila, was there as part of its routine and had no connection to the territorial dispute in the South China Sea between the Philippines, a U.S. ally, and China.
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China's growing maritime influence in the region has the neighboring nations, including Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, worried over territorial confrontations. Beijing lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea, including what is recognized by the U.N. as the Exclusive Economic Zone of other neighbors.
The members of the Association on Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meanwhile, have started discussions on a code of conduct in the South China Sea ahead of the next month's ASEAN summit.
“ASEAN, China, all the others — everyone wants a positive outcome. Everyone understands the need for regional peace and harmony, and I believe that we will all work towards that," Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who is on a visit to Indonesia, said Thursday at a joint press conference with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa, the Straits Times reported.
ASEAN failed to reach a common ground over the sea dispute at a regional summit held in Cambodia in July.
Though the disagreement was attributed to the claims of overlapping maritime boundaries of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia in certain parts of the South China Sea, it also exposed how the Chinese pressure had polarized regional politics.
The Philippines and Vietnam, which were involved in a dispute with China recently over the ownership of the Scarborough Shoal, have sought ASEAN's support in compelling Beijing to accept the code of conduct.
Natalegawa had slammed the disagreement within the bloc as "perplexing" and "utterly irresponsible."
In September, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered U.S. support for a regionally endorsed six-point plan for the implementation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea while adding that Washington did not take a position on competing territorial claims.
"The United States has a national interest, as every country does, in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea,” she had said.