The Vietnamese government protested China's move as a violation of its sovereign claim to the islands-exactly the language used by China to protest U.S. actions today after sending its own warships to warn away the Americans. "If anyone gets the natural resources in the West Philippine Sea-South China Sea, he will go to war".
Marco Rubio and Cory Gardner, expressed "grave concerns" over Beijing's actions and stated that "we believe there is strong bipartisan congressional support for taking significant actions in response to the Chinese government's continuing militarization of the South China Sea". "Whatever their professions are - justice, politician, newsman, journalist - if we lost a single island during Duterte's time, I will pack my bags, go home and I will not serve the public in any elected or appointed position".
"Our soldiers should not be harassed when they deliver supplies or when they fix the runways", Cayetano said, referring to the small airstrip on Pag-asa [Thitu], the largest Philippine-occupied island in the Spratlys.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he gives a speech during the Armed Forces of the Philippines change of command ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo in Manila on April 18.
Political analyst and youtuber Black Pigeon Speaks explains why the investment that China is making to militarize the region is only useful for psychological and propagandistic purposes, and would serve nearly no strategic value if directly challenged by the US military.
While the Sunday operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it comes at a sensitive time and days after the Pentagon withdrew an invitation to China to attend a major USA -hosted naval drill.
Esperon reported that five lighthouses have been built on Pag-asa, Likas, Parola, Patag and Kota islands - all part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands "to ensure safety of navigation, along our responsibility under the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) to provide navigational safety for all global vessels transiting the West Philippine Sea".
China dispatched heavy bombers to contested territories in the region in mid-May.
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Esperon made the remarks after some groups criticized the government for not doing enough to protest China's increased militarization in the South China Sea.
"This is necessary for trade, the preservation of the livelihood of the fisherfolk, and the timely delivery of basic necessities of the community in the municipality of Pag-asa", he said.
The five islands are outside the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and are more than 100 kilometers from the three reefs that allegedly have been militarized by China.
Mattis said American ships are maintaining a "steady drumbeat" of naval operations around the disputed islands, adding that "only one country" seems to be bothered by the vessels' routine activities.
Manila is pursuing a joint exploration agreement with Beijing for oil and pure gasoline reserves of their claimed territory within the South China Sea.
Mattis said on Tuesday that the United States would pushback against what it sees as China's militarization of islands in the South China Sea, despite drawing condemnation from Beijing for an operation in the region over the weekend. The sea covering 3.5 mn sq km borders Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and China and all have claims on the thousands of islands in the area.
"China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States", Adm. Philip Davidson, the new head of U.S. Pacific Command, said in April.
Mattis is then due to attend a regional security conference in Singapore - one at which China will likely continue flexing its growing muscle.