PH backs US plans to sail near Chinese island

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippines on Tuesday backed a reported U.S. plan to challenge China’s territorial claims by deploying a Navy ship close to a Chinese-built island in the South China Sea, saying it was important for the international community to safeguard freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the U.S. plan of sending a Navy ship within 22 kilometers (14 miles) of the artificial island in the Spratly Islands “would be consistent with international law and a rules-based order for the region.”

The U.S. newspaper Navy Times reported last week that the Navy may soon receive approval for the mission to sail close to the island.

Such a U.S. Navy move would bolster Washington’s stance that the artificial islands being built by China do not constitute sovereign territory and build a legal case under international law for the U.S. position, the newspaper said.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs warned that “failure to challenge false claims of sovereignty would undermine this order and lead China to the false conclusion that its claims are accepted as a fait accompli.”

“It is important for the international community to safeguard freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” it said. “This is of paramount concern to all countries.

Aside from China and the Philippines, four other governments lay claim to a part of or the entire South China Sea, a busy passageway for a bulk of the world’s commerce and military vessels. Washington has a policy of not taking sides in the territorial disputes, but says it’s in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of the conflicts.

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