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Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012

U.S. to ensure China-riled seas stay open: carrier skipper


MANILA — The U.S. Navy's presence in Asia will help safeguard "freedom of navigation" amid China's increasingly aggressive territorial claims in the East and South China seas, the skipper of an American aircraft carrier said.

Capt. Gregory Fenton of the Japan-deployed USS George Washington, now on a port call to Manila, said Thursday the U.S. is not taking sides in any of the ongoing territorial disputes between China and multiple regional neighbors, but firmly backs keeping sea lanes open.

"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," Fenton said.

However, he emphasized that the carrier's visit to Manila was a routine event and not related to recent tensions between the Philippines and China over rival sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Speaking to reporters, Fenton said Washington hopes the parties involved will manage to settle their disputes diplomatically.

The Philippines has been moving closer to the United States, its main defense ally, since a standoff began in April with China over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

Beijing claims the shoal, as well as nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries.

The South China Sea is the main maritime link between the Pacific and Indian oceans, giving it enormous trade and military value. Most of the seaborne trade, including oil and gas, between Europe and the Middle East and East Asia passes through these waters.

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