PH, U.S. officials: Warship in South China Sea not meant to stir trouble

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 12) — Military officials from the Philippines and U.S. on Friday assured China it should not be worried by the sailing of a massive U.S. Navy warship in the disputed South China Sea.

Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, Philippine exercise director for the Balikatan, said the presence of USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, in contested waters was purely for the joint military exercises.

"It just so happened there is an increase in participation of personnel and equipment used in this Balikatan and the presence is not really to agitate but purely for training so nobody should be alarmed," Gapay said on the last day of the joint drill.

Aside from the massive ship, the U.S. government also deployed its F-35 stealth jets during the Balikatan exercises which ran from April 1 to 12. The USS Wasp sailed alongside the Philippine Navy's BRP Tarlac in the annual wargames held in Subic Bay and the South China Sea. The Philippine Navy refused to disclose the exact locations.

Gapay added there are recommendations to further expand the Balikatan exercises to bring in more personnel and equipment next year.

His U.S. counterpart, meanwhile, said he sees no reason why the ship should not be allowed to sail in the global waterway.

"The United States will fly, sail, and operate everywhere international law allows. That's it," Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said.

When asked about USS Wasp on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said non-regional forces like the U.S. should "refrain from stirring up troubles in the calm South China Sea."

Although the U.S. is not a claimant country in the South China Sea, it conducts freedom-of-navigation operations in international waters around the disputed area and calls out China's alleged militarization in the region.

CNN Philippines' David Santos contributed to this report.