From the George Washington, passenger boats ferry hundreds of American sailors in casual clothes to the Mall of Asia, one of Asia's largest shopping centers, where some bars blared loud disco music on a rainy noontime Thursday to attract the visitors. Smiling mall workers handed umbrellas to the large throng of sailors.
Such U.S. military presence in the region has in the past annoyed China, which has warned the United States not to intervene in territorial disputes Beijing says should be dealt with one-on-one by Asian claimants.
Amid the murky situation, Washington has walked a tightrope by providing military support to allies like the Philippines and declaring that it will help ensure freedom of navigation in disputed South China Sea areas, while also saying it does not take sides in the disputes to avoid being drawn into the wrangling.
"We are firmly committed to helping support the nations that are involved in the disputes, but ideally we'd like to see them sort out their disputes via diplomatic channels," Fenton told reporters.
"We're very sensitive to the areas that are under disputes," he said. "We do make a very conscious effort to stay away from those areas."
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