US guided-missile destroyer now in Subic
Jaime Laude (Associated Press) - April 2, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A US guided-missile destroyer on deployment in the South China Sea has dropped anchor at Subic Bay in Zambales yesterday.

The USS Fitzgerald of the US Carrier Strike Group 5 made a brief port call in Subic before taking part in the joint naval drill in South Korea.

“The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer arrived in Subic Bay for a brief port call that highlights the strong community and military connections between the Philippines and the United States,” the US embassy said.

Since February, USS Carl Vinzon has been conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, particularly near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, an atoll located off Zambales which is now under de facto control of China.

The visiting warship is part of the destroyer squadron of the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group 5 assigned to the US Pacific Fleet and permanently forward deployed to the US 7th Fleet.

“We have another capable warship out there,” a US naval official said in reference to the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group 1 leaving the disputed region and heading to South Korean waters for a joint naval drill.

“The ship’s crew will use the stop to conduct some minor repairs with assistance of Philippine companies,” the US embassy said.

It added the US and the Philippines continue to build upon their 70-year history of partnership through defense cooperation, port visits and military training activities.

“The Philippine and American militaries have worked together on areas of mutual interests including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism, cybersecurity and maritime security,” the US embassy said.

The US Navy has been maintaining its heavy presence in the South China Sea to police the contested waters in the wake of reports that China is planning to put up a monitoring station at Panatag Shoal.

Aside from being inside the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Panatag Shoal is a red line to the US’s military and economic interests as the area is strategic to civilian and military navigation and overflights in the South China Sea and the Pacific.

Defense and military analysts have long warned that leaving China’s planned activities at Panatag Shoal unchecked would result in a major alteration of regional maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recently disclosed a Chinese survey ship had conducted oceanographic studies at Benham Rise for almost three months late last year.

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