By Windsor Genova

The U.S. ambassador to the Philippinesreassured Manila of Washington's support on issues of the former with China relative to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

"I assure you, in all subjects, we the United States, are with the Philippines," Amb. Harry Thomas was quoted as saying by the local media during his speech at the launching of the Philippines' renewable energy program in Manila.

President Benigno Aquino III, who was present during the event, welcomed Thomas' remarks and said that America's support as provided in their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty will ensure free navigation in the South China Sea, otherwise known as the West Philippine Sea.

Thomas' statements came days after Manila complained to Beijing about Chinese naval ships that recently confronted Philippine fishing vessels and an oil exploration ship in the Spratly Islands. Beijing responded by saying that the islands is part of China's territory.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Spratly islands fall within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone. One of the islands, the Recto Bank, is just 80 miles off Palawan.

China also wanted to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully and only with claimants to the islands. Its foreign ministry on Tuesday said Beijing opposes international meddling on the issue, which Vietnam urged over the weekend.

Vietnam also conducted naval drills in the South China Sea on Monday to assert its territorial rights.

Aside from the Philippines and China, other countries claiming ownership of the reputedly oil-rich Spratlys are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.


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