US not giving space to China, ready to defend Philippines

US Ambassador Sung Kim

MANILA — The United States is not “retreating” and giving space to China to dominate the Asia-Pacific region, US Ambassador Sung Kim said yesterday.

“Washington remains fully committed to the region,” Kim said in an interview on GMA-7 News to Go.

He disagreed that the shift in US policy and attitude toward Asia is creating opportunities for China to dominate the region.

“There has been a lot of commentary on this but the US is fully committed to the region. We are not going anywhere. What’s important are trade and security. I don’t think it’s accurate to say we’re retreating,” he said.

Kim noted that China’s influence would continue to expand as it poses the challenge on how the US and the region would work with China so that the whole world would benefit from a constructive partnership.

Asked about a situation where the US would more actively support the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the ambassador said: “There’s absolutely no ambiguity about our commitment to defend the Philippines.”

In promoting and protecting international rights such as freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, he said “this is not solely for US benefit.”

“So much trade goes through that area that if we don’t protect freedom of navigation, I think we will all suffer. We would do whatever is necessary, including conducting freedom of navigation exercises, to make sure that we promote those rights,” Kim said.

The US supports efforts to come out with a strong set of principles such as the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which negotiations leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China agreed to open in November.

China’s militarization of the South China Sea is provocative and undermines the sovereignty of neighboring states, said Brian Hook, senior policy advisor to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“We firmly believe that sustained US leadership is needed to uphold the sovereignty of states and push back against actions that undermine a fair and open rules-based order,” he said.

Hook said China’s rise cannot come at the expense of the values and rules-based order which is the foundation of peace and stability in the region and around the world.

“When China’s behavior is out of step with these values and these rules, we will stand up and defend the rule of law,” he said.

“China’s provocative militarization of the South China Sea is one area where China is contesting international law. They’re pushing around smaller states in ways that put strains on the global system, and their actions also undermine core principles of sovereignty, which are very dear to us,” Hook said at a press briefing to discuss Washington’s Asia policy.

The US has been clear with China “that we don’t accept unilateral actions by claimants aimed at changing the status quo while issues of sovereignty remain unresolved,” he added.

“It is in our national interest to work with all of (our) allies and partners to ensure the Indo-Pacific remains a place of peace, stability and growing prosperity. It cannot become a region of disorder and conflict,” he said.