US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday warned China not to impose an air defence zone over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) similar to the one it declared over disputed islands in the East China Sea last month, sparking fresh tensions over territorial rows in the region.
"The zone should not be implemented and China should refrain from taking similar, unilateral actions elsewhere in the region, and particularly over the South China Sea," Kerry told a news conference in Manila.
Kerry also announced a fresh US infusion of US$40 million (S$50 million) in new assistance to help the Philippines protect its territorial waters amid tensions with China over disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea.
The amount, to be allocated through the US Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), will be spent over three years and used to "enhance Philippine law enforcement capabilities in securing maritime borders and combating terrorism," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.
The new aid is intended to complement a US$32.5-million assistance package, which Kerry announced Monday in Vietnam, that will help Southeast Asian nations protect their territorial waters. Up to US$18 million of that money will go to provide the Vietnamese Coast Guard with five new fast patrol boats.
US presence Kerry arrived from Hanoi Tuesday afternoon for a two-day visit that could fast-track a deal on expanding the US military presence in the Philippines as the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing in the West Philippine Sea simmered.
Kerry flew to Manila as the United States and the Philippines were in the final stages of hammering out an agreement allowing more US troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines, where the last US military bases closed in 1992.
Visiting the Philippines for the first time since becoming the US secretary of state on February 2, Kerry met with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario at the DFA.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III was to play host to Kerry at dinner in Malacañang Tuesday night, after a one-on-one meeting.
He will also visit communities devastated by Supertyphoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan) last month, highlighting a massive US humanitarian response to the disaster that contrasted with a modest contribution from China.
His visit to Tacloban City on Wednesday will be brief.