REFUTING domestic criticism that of its soft stance on China's militarisation of the South China Sea, the Philippines said it was prepared to go to war with the country if any of its military personnel are harmed in the disputed waters.
The New York Times reports (paywall) that a Chinese defense ministry spokesperson said the US had "gravely violated Chinese sovereignty".
China has voiced "strong dissatisfaction" after two United States naval warships passed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed islands in while conducting naval manoeuvring exercises, adding to simmering tensions in the strategic waterway.
On Sunday, two U.S. warships sailed close to islands occupied by China in the Paracel group, and last week the United States military withdrew China's invitation to take part in the upcoming Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii "as an initial response to China's continued militarisation of the South China Sea".
"Yes, we have differences with them (China), but we have made gains".
Esperon assured that the government is not remiss in finding diplomatic approaches to address issues over the South China Sea, officially recognized in the country as the West Philippine Sea.
Mattis said US diplomats were engaged on the issue and he had heard concerns about Chinese actions not just from within the United States government, but also from regional allies.
"We control Scarborough until 2011, but in 2012 nung nagkaroon ng misfire ang Aquino administration, umalis tayo at sila (China) bumalik".
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"They can not blame the public if there are doubts and low confidence on their words since what they are disclosing and what is happening on the ground are two different stories", Alejano said.
Also last week, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang said that Japan had helped to boost the Southeast Asian nation's maritime defence capability in the disputed waters. "If anyone gets the natural resources in the Western Philippines Sea, South China Sea, he will go to war".
However he mentioned it was unfair to single out China for its superior militarization within the South China Sea.
According to the USA, the freedom of navigation missions are meant to underscore the rights of the US and others to operate in global waters and airspace and to block efforts by any nation to unlawfully extend their boundaries or territorial rights.
But if deemed necessary, Esperon said, the Philippines will look into the option of fighting back if China will coerce or hurt Filipino troops and civilians based on the islands located in disputed areas.
The US secretary of defense is expected to preside over the change of guard in the US Pacific Command.
The current head, Admiral Harry Harris, has been nominated to be the new ambassador to South Korea.
"It's clear that Xi wanted to follow up that last event to showcase his control over the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), including his promise and call for the PLA to heighten combat readiness in the South China Sea", Dr Collin Koh Swee Lean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore, told VnExpress. He will be replaced by Admiral Philip Davidson.