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US-Philippines Discuss China Concerns  04/11 09:04

   Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday discussed with his Philippine 
counterpart China's recent positioning of "militia vessels" near the 
Philippines in the South China Sea.

   ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on 
Saturday discussed with his Philippine counterpart China's recent positioning 
of "militia vessels" near the Philippines in the South China Sea.

   Austin spoke by phone with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin 
Lorenzana while Austin was flying from Washington to Israel to begin an 
international trip.

   Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Austin and Lorenzana discussed the 
situation in the South China Sea and the recent massing of Chinese vessels at 
Whitsun Reef, which has drawn criticism from Manila.

   China has said its vessels are there for fishing.

   In their phone call, Austin proposed to Lorenzana several measures to deepen 
defense cooperation, including by "enhancing situational awareness of threats 
in the South China Sea," Kirby said. He did not elaborate.

   Kirby said earlier this week that the aircraft carrier USS Theodore 
Roosevelt and its strike group, as well as the amphibious ship USS Makin 
Island, are operating in the South China Sea.

   The U.S. has no military forces based permanently in the Philippines but 
sometimes rotates forces to the country under the U.S.-Philippines Visiting 
Forces Agreement.

   The recent gathering of Chinese vessels near the Philippines is among moves 
the United States has criticized as efforts by Beijing to intimidate smaller 
nations in the region.

 
 
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