More US Navy vessels will be deployed to the disputed South China Sea, according to the Philippines ambassador to the US.
Jose Manuel Romualdez said on Sunday that this would be part of a freedom of navigation operation.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group arrived in the South China Sea on April 4 for the second time this year.
Romualdez said: “The US Navy has been increasing it in the past several months. They’ll keep increasing it continuously, precisely to protect the seaway there,” according to a Philippine Daily Inquirer translation. “That is freedom of navigation, any vessel can pass through there without any harassment or any stop from any country.”
Under the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US both nations would support one another if they were attacked by an “external armed attack”.
Romualdez continued: “Our friends have assured us that they are really concerned and they are ready to help us the moment we ask for help and when our situation with China worsens.
“I hope China is not our foe and the situation does not escalate. I hope these Chinese vessels just leave our territory.”
Earlier this month, the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte became enraged when an estimated 200 Chinese fishing vessels positioned themselves around the Whitsun Reef, which the Philippines claims and calls the Julian Felipe Reef.
According to the Financial Times, China’s foreign ministry accused the Philippines of “hyping” what had happened and claimed the vessels had simply been “sheltering from the wind”.
The Duterte administration said weather that day had not been severe, and analysts added that structures have been built on reefs by the PRC to further their claims in the region.