President Aquino welcomes U.S. presence in South China Sea

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Aquino said he does not believe this development would increase tension in the contested area.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Benigno Aquino III sees nothing wrong with the United States sending a warship close to artificial islands built by China in contested areas of the South China Sea, as long as it conforms to international laws.

"So long as everyone follows established international laws, then I don't think the Philippines should have negative apprehensions about this act," Aquino said during the annual forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on Tuesday (October 27).

Aquino clarified that the move of the U.S. move would ensure a balance of power and freedom of navigation in the area.

Around 40 percent of the world's trade passes through the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The president said he did not believe this development would increase tension in the contested area.

"We have statements from both parties stating no hostile intent by either party," he said.

Military analyst Jose Antonio Custodio agreed with Aquino in saying that the U.S. is just making its presence felt.

"The Americans never said that they will eliminate the Chinese presence there... They never said that, so they will tolerate the Chinese presence there as long as they do not seal off the area," Custodio said.

Aquino is also open to providing logistical support for U.S. operations in contested waters under the pending Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries.

He added that U.S. presence in the South China Sea would not affect Manila's arbitration case against Beijing or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting that the Philippines is hosting next month. All three countries are members of APEC.

China's President Xi Jinping has not yet confirmed attendance to the regional conference.

Aquino said he looked forward to fruitful conversations with his APEC counterparts and was open to bilateral talks with China.

Aquino noted that Chinese companies had  invested around $600 million in Philippine companies while local firms had invested $2.5 billion in the Chinese economy.