A US delegation of 4 senators - John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Sheldon Whitehouse and Kelly Ayotte - began a three-day visit to the Philippines, designed to promote bilateral relations and discuss the issue of the South China Sea (which Manila calls the West Philippines Sea) and the conflicting territorial claims between China and the Philippines.
McCain, while discounting the possibility of a confrontation with China, insisted that the US would collaborate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to preserve freedom of navigation. For this reason, he said, the US and the Philippines had to foster greater collaboration.
Joseph Lieberman emphasized the US interest in the issue because the waterway was a valuable trade route to Asia and impacted the global economy. "We simply cannot allow one nation, in this case China, to exercise disproportionate control over these waterways," he said to the obvious approval of his hosts..
Lieberman again scored with his hosts by pledging to bolster the Philippine military, "Somebody once said that the best way to secure peace is to prepare for war, which is to say to remain strong,"
The US will not reestablish military bases in the Philippines. These were shut down in the early 1990s. The US expects to signal its support via joint military operations and the supply of modern American ships and equipment to the Philippines.
Another area where the guests sided with the Philippines against China was in their support for multi-lateral diplomacy by the ASEAN nations against China. The Chinese have insisted that bilateral diplomacy that maximizes Chinese preponderance was the best route. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all favor the multilateral approach that allows them to pool their strength when confronting China.
Joseph Lieberman said “We’re not gonna let those claims to be settled by force or by bullying,” he said. “We’re going to make sure to the best of our ability that they’re settled as a matter of negotiations, multilateral negotiations and international rule of law.”