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MANILA, Philippines - The commanding officer of the USS George Washington, the United States nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Manila for a visit, expressed hope Thursday that the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines will be worked out through diplomatic channels.
Capt. Gregory Fenton said that they tried to avoid passing through disputed areas when they went to the Philippines for a five-day goodwill visit. Fenton was earlier asked if they saw Chinese ships when they passed by Scarborough Shoal.
"What I cannot comment on is the specifics of our navigation and operations. We are very sensitive to the areas that are under dispute, if you will. And we do make a very conscious effort to stay away from those areas. I believe that we are firmly committed to helping support the nations that are involved in those disputes. But ideally, we'd like to see them sort out those disputes via diplomatic channels. So, we do make an effort to avoid those areas," Fenton said.
As always, the US Navy brushed aside speculations that their visit in Manila was connected to the territorial dispute with China.
Fenton stressed that their visit was not only for routine maintenance but also to allow their men to unwind and go around Manila. About 800 of the ship's crew are either of Filipino descent, married to Filipinos or have close relatives who are Filipino, he added.
"We wanna partner with the nations that we visit in order to further expand the cooperation not only at the military level but also to engage in community service type projects, humanitarian assistance missions," Fenton added. "I would not view our port visit as anything outside of our routine port visit. There certainly is no intent to make anything more significance out of our port visit than that."
The USS George Washington participated in joint exercises in Guam as well as in Malaysia.