The Philippines said Wednesday that US spy planes were providing crucial intelligence on Chinese military activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
US Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft frequently fly over areas that the Philippines says are within its legal territory but where China has deployed military vessels, said Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philippines and other neighbors.
Analysts have long warned that China’s overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan could be a flashpoint of armed conflict.
Tensions have risen in recent years as China has adopted more aggressive diplomatic and military tactics to assert its claims to the potentially resource-rich waters.
The Philippines has repeatedly called on the United States, its former colonial master and close military ally, for help in resisting China.
While the United States insists it will not take sides in the South China Sea dispute, it has helped to upgrade the Philippines’ military capabilities.
When asked if the spy plane surveillance on China may jar with the United States’ insistence of neutrality in the maritime dispute, del Rosario emphasized the close US-Philippine ties.
He pointed out the allies had a mutual defense treaty, which calls on each party to help the other in times of external aggression.
He also said the United States was keen to maintain peace in the Asia-Pacific and ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.