The Philippines has asked the United States to hold joint naval patrols, a defense ministry spokesman said on Thursday, amid a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Foreign and defense ministers from the United States and the Philippines met in Washington this week for the second time in more than three years to discuss trade and security, focusing on the South China Sea.
"We are suggesting that we also patrol the area together," Peter Paul Galvez told reporters in Manila. "There is a need for a more collaborative presence in the South China Sea."
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus underscored the importance of the U.S.-Philippine relationship, but declined to comment on the Philippine request for joint patrols.
A Pentagon spokesman, Commander Bill Urban, said the United States engaged "in numerous joint defense activities" year round with its ally, including exercises, capacity building, training, and intelligence sharing.
"While we do not comment on our joint planning discussions, we routinely evaluate ways to strengthen and enhance our military cooperation to better meet regional security challenges," he said.
China claims almost all the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where it has reclaimed land and built facilities. The region, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas and through which $5 trillion of trade passes every year, is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Surface Navy Association, Mabus said the U.S. Navy was already working closely with the Philippines through joint military exercises, prepositioning of supplies and other measures. The recent move by the Philippine Congress paved the way for even closer ties, although what shape those next steps would take was still being discussed, he added.
"They’re a very, very important international partner, and they’re in a very important part of the world,” Mabus said at the event just outside Washington.
Tensions were heightened earlier this month when China began test flights from Fiery Cross Reef, one of three artificial islands where Beijing has built airfields.
The Philippines has challenged Beijing at the arbitration court in The Hague, a case Beijing has not recognized.