US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt docked at the mouth of Manila Bay on Tuesday, PhilStar Global reports, ahead of visits from Australian and Japanese warships. Two Australian vessels are in Subic today, while a Japanese destroyer is expected Friday.
The visit comes after the US carrier patrolled the South China Sea and showed off air its air power in the waters off the Philippines. According to the PhilStar report, 20 F-18 fighters took off and landed on the nuclear-powered warship within the span of 20 minutes.
The show of force comes as recent news reports have been playing up the rising tensions in the region, citing naval drills off China’s Hainan Island which showcased the country’s Liaoning aircraft carrier.
One US commander played down that characterization.
“We have seen Chinese ships around us,” Rear Admiral Steve Koehler, the Theodore Roosevelt strike group commander, was quoted as saying. “They are one of the navies that operate in the South China Sea, but I would tell you that we have seen nothing but professional work out of the ships we have encountered.”
“This transit in the South China Sea is nothing new in our planning cycle or in a reaction to that. It is probably by happenstance that all that is happening at the same time.”
The docking in Manila underscored that, despite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot towards closer relations with Beijing, the country’s military alliance with the United States is still intact, at least for the time being.