US commander of the Indo-Pacific region ‘very, very concerned’ about Chinese aggression in the South China Sea

Melbourne, Australia — The head of the US Indo-Pacific Command said on Tuesday he was “very, very concerned” about Chinese aggression against Philippine forces near disputed islands in the South China Sea.

The Chinese coast guard has repeatedly clashed with Philippine patrol vessels near the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal. Last month, several Filipino sailors were injured when a Chinese ship sideswiped a smaller Philippine ship and another two Chinese coast guard ships sprayed high-pressure water to shatter the windshield of the Philippine ship.

Asked whether the submerged reef in the Spratly Islands was the most dangerous flashpoint in his command area, US Admiral John Aquilino said at a forum at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based international policy think tank: “I am very concerned about what is happening.” happens at the Second Thomas Shoal.”

“I’m very concerned about the direction things are going,” Aquilino said. “These actions are dangerous, illegal and destabilize the region.”

“What is the next step and how far are they willing to go in that area?” Aquilino asked.

The United States, Japan, the Philippines and Australia on Sunday held their first joint exercises in Philippine waters in the South China Sea, which they said were aimed at upholding freedom of navigation and overflight in a region disputed by China.

Aquilino said the joint exercise demonstrated the countries’ ability to operate safely, effectively and lawfully in the region.

“Events and cases like this are exactly what we need to do to demonstrate that strength among like-minded allies and partners and to show that we will continue to operate wherever international law allows,” Aquilino said.

China’s military said on Sunday it had carried out air and sea patrols and that all activities “disruptive to the South China Sea” were under control, an apparent response to naval exercises by the US and its allies.