- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

U.S. ‘WITH’ PHILIPPINES ON ISLANDS

The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines appeared to side with Manila on Tuesday in its tense dispute with China over islands both nations claim in the South China Sea, where Beijing also is asserting its power over waters that serve as key global shipping lanes and hold significant energy reserves.

AmbassadorHarry Thomasspoke in guarded terms, but his remarks were widely interpreted in Manila as reflecting the strongest U.S. support yet for the Philippines’ claim to the Spratly Islands.

“I want to assure you that on all sectors, we, the United States, are with the Philippines,” he said at the launch of a Philippines project on renewable energy.

“The Philippines and the United States are strategic-treaty allies. We are partners. We will continue to consult and work with each other on all issues, including the South China Sea and the Spratlys.”

The United States officially has called for negotiations to settle claims with China over the Spratlys and the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim territorial waters in the South China Sea.

China, however, is trying to assert its sovereignty over about 80 percent of the region - about 648,000 square miles of open water.

As recently as Friday, the State Department repeated its position, as tensions increased between China and Vietnam over maritime oil exploration rights.

“We support a collaborative diplomatic process and call on all claimants to conform all of their claims, both land and maritime, to international law,” spokesman Mark Tonersaid.

In Manila, newspapers applauded Mr. Thomas, as they interpreted his remarks as U.S. backing in its clash with China.

The Spratly Islands are about 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of China but only 230 miles from the Philippines.

“The United States threw … its support to the Philippines amid the escalating tensions over the dispute Spratly Islands,” the Sun Star newspaper reported.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer saw Mr. Thomas‘ remarks as an attempt to answer Filipino lawmakers who questioned whether the United States would abide by a defense treaty to aid the Philippines” if the verbal row with China” escalates.

The United States and the Philippines signed a defense pact in 1951.

China on Tuesday told Washington to stay out of the dispute, after Sen.Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, condemned Beijing on Monday for allegations that Chinese boats forcefully prevented Vietnamese vessels from exploring for oil in the South China Sea.

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