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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        28 January 2011

US enters South China Sea arena

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Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, revealed Washington's plan to help the Philippines increase its maritime capacity to protect the country's claim over the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Mr.Campbell, said that the US government believes that it is important for the Philippines to "develop confidence level" in maritime issues, especially those pertaining to territorial claims over the Spratlys.

The Spratly Islands are a chain of islands, islets, reefs and atolls that are believed to be rich in oil, minerals and gas deposits.

Campbell said that a key topic that will be discussed in today's meeting of the first ever Philippine-US strategic dialogue in Manila are the "bilateral steps that US and the Philippines can take to increase Philippines' maritime capacity in order to be able to patrol these waters."

"[Discussions will be made on how] to police this very substantial maritime domain within the context of the Philippine islands," he added.

Reports earlier said that China had constructed a lighthouse on Subi Reef, which is occupied by Chinese forces but is being claimed by the Philippines.

Chinese officials, however, were quick to point out that China did not violate any terms of the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea since the lighthouse was built even before the signing of the code.

"We think this is a critical component of our [US and the Philippines] partnership. Much of the work is now under way. We seek to intensify this in the months and years ahead," Campbell said.

The US official, however, failed to specify what kind of assistance the US government would be extending to the Philippines to help the country protect its interest in the disputed islands of the South China Sea.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio said that a working group had been formed to "work out the details" on possible maritime programs that will help claimant countries achieve peace and stability in the South China Sea.

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