April 15, 2015 / 11:01 AM / 3 years ago

Philippines seeks help from U.S. in South China Sea dispute

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines is seeking more “substantive” support from its long-time security ally United States on how to counter China’s rapid expansion in the South China Sea, the foreign secretary said on Wednesday.

A ship (top) of Chinese Coast Guard is seen near a ship of Vietnam Marine Guard in the South China Sea, about 210 km off shore of Vietnam May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Nguyen Minh

China’s rapid reclamation around seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea has alarmed claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, and drawn growing criticism from U.S. government officials and the military.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said Washington is concerned China is using its “sheer size and muscle” to push around smaller nations in the disputed sea, drawing a swift rebuke from Beijing.

“We are, at this point, seeking additional support from the United States in terms of being able to take a stronger position in defending our position, which is to uphold the rule of law,” Albert del Rosario, Manila’s foreign minister, told journalists.

“I hope to sit down with defense and also state to be able to see if we could get more substantive support.” He did not say what kind of support he was seeking.

Next week, 11,500 Filipino and American soldiers are taking part in the largest-ever 10-day war games in the Philippines, called “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder), setting into motion the U.S. rebalance to Asia policy.

China claims most of the potentially energy rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

China on Wednesday bristled at recent comments by Philippine President Benigno Aquino in an interview with Agence France-Presse. Aquino said China is engendering fear around the world with its posture in the South China Sea’s disputed waters, and that it’s possible conflict over territorial disputes could break out.

“The accusation is groundless,” said Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a regular briefing. “We urge the Philippines to respect China’s territorial sovereignty.”

Reporting by Manuel Mogato, additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie

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