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.
In this April 26, 2018, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens to a question during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.
On Sunday, two USA warships sailed close to the Paracel Islands, which lie north of the Spratlys, the latest freedom of navigation operation created to challenge Beijing's claims.
China said it dispatched warships to identify and warn off a pair of U.S. Navy vessels sailing near one of its island claims in the South China Sea.
But Mattis said, there is only one country that seems to take active steps to rebuff or state their resentment over the U.S. recent freedom of navigation operations in the global waters.
"Chinese military took immediate actions by dispatching naval ships and aircrafts to conduct legal identification and verification of the U.S. warships and warn them off", Wu Qian, defense ministry spokesman, said in a statement released to the media.
"This administration does not and will not abandon the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea disputes", Esperon said in a press statement.
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.
Plus, the sea is a major global trade link - commodities from Africa and West Asia travel through South China Sea en route to China, Japan and South Korea.
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He said that although they are covered less extensively, China's coast guard and naval patrols, announced last week, represent a preemptive move to tell counter-claimants "don't even think about it".
"(The sailings) contravened Chinese and relevant global law, seriously infringed upon Chinese sovereignty (and) harmed strategic mutual trust between the two militaries", he said.
"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. Officials say the Philippine government has quietly protested after Chinese ships deployed a helicopter that flew close to a Philippine navy boat carrying supplies to Filipino marines at a disputed shoal this month.
President Duterte is ready to declare war on China or any other country over Philippine sovereignty in the South China Sea, his Foreign Secretary has said.
Previously in a speech in Davao City in February, he said: "This is not the time to be fighting over the South China Sea because it will only lead to war".
U.S. Navy Adm. Philip Davidson will take over PACOM from Adm. Harry Harris during the change of command on Wednesday.
Mattis is expected to have strong words for China at a Shangri-la dialogue conference in Singapore beginning on Friday.
Harris has been nominated to become the next USA ambassador to South Korea.