MANILA, Philippines — A U.S. Navy flagship has sailed through the South China Sea with its commander renewing an American vow to "sail, fly and operate wherever the law allows us to" amid China's objection to U.S. military presence in the disputed sea.
Capt. Eric Anduze, commander of the USS Blue Ridge, told reporters on board the U.S. 7th Fleet's command and control ship, which anchored at Manila Bay Wednesday, that the visit was the latest affirmation of the strong U.S.-Philippine alliance.
"We have a long history ... we're here to let you know that that partnership is stronger than ever," Anduze said.
Asked if his contingent has encountered the Chinese navy in the region, Anduze said without elaborating that it has, adding that "all of our interactions were safe and professional."
"We sail, fly and operate wherever the law allows us to," he said.
Navy Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of the Japan-based 7th Fleet, said in a statement the Blue Ridge's Manila visit strengthens "our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Manila early this month that the United States is committed to ensuring the South China Sea remains open to all kinds of navigation and that "China does not pose a threat" of closing the disputed sea lanes.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang reacted in Beijing by saying that China and countries around the South China Sea are committed to maintaining regional peace and stability, citing efforts to negotiate a "code of conduct" aimed at preventing disputes from escalating.
"If countries outside the region, such as the United States, really keep in mind the peace and well-being of the regional people, they should not stir up troubles in the region," Lu said.