President Donald Trump’s national security advisor Robert O’Brien has reiterated the US’ commitment to back the Philippines and Vietnam over Beijing’s territorial claims in the potentially energy-rich South China Sea.

The two states have been engaged in a long-running row with Beijing over sovereignty in the contested South China Sea, of which China claims 90 percent.

O’Brien said the way to deter China is the “peace-through-strength message” and reinforced Washington’s military commitment to the region.

Our message is we’re going to be here, we’ve got your back, and we’re not leaving. 

The national security advisor reaffirmed that the US stands firmly behind the Philippines in building a deterrent against Chinese expansionism, adding that the sub-sea resources claimed by the Philippines belonged to its people and future generations.

“They don’t belong to some other country just because they may be bigger than the Philippines…that’s just wrong,” he said.

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Philippines lifts ban on oil exploration in South China Sea opening door to potential energy deal with Beijing

In 2016, the dispute over the territory and exploration rights went to the Hague, where a court ruled in favor of the Philippines against China. However, Beijing rejected the ruling, with President Xi Jinping saying it would not impact his country’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights.”

In October this year, the Philippines lifted a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, which may allow for both it and China to undertake joint operations in the area.

The South China Sea remains largely unexplored in regard to hydrocarbons, but estimates suggest there are 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proven and probable reserves. There may be even more in fields that are yet to be discovered.

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FILE PHOTO A Navy Ching Chiang class (Jin-Jiang) Feng Chiang (PG-607) patrol ship (C) takes part in Hai-an No. 10 maritime exercises, simulating fending off terror attacks and invasion outside Taipei Port, New Taipei City © REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
China vows a ‘necessary’ response to US admiral’s visit to Taiwan

Relations between the US and China have deteriorated significantly throughout 2020 as Washington increasingly stepped up pressure on Beijing.

Earlier on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing would enact a “necessary” response after an admiral of the US Navy made an unannounced visit to Taiwan over the weekend.

Zhao said China “resolutely opposes” any diplomatic or military relations between Washington and Taiwan.

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