The Vice Admiral of the United States Navy, Karl Thomas, gave a strongly-worded assurance that the US navy will back the Philippines in the face of “shared challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region.

“My forces are out here for a reason,” Thomas told Reuters news agency in an interview. “We have to challenge people who are operating in a grey zone and taking more and more, pushing us to our limits. We cannot simply give in – we have to push back, and make sure to sail and operate in our own waters.”

Thomas’s comments come at a time when the US and several Southeast Asian countries are increasingly confronting the threats of China’s expansive activities in the South China Sea. The tensions between the two powers long existed, but there was escalation this past Summer when China seized two Filipino fishing vessels in the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

The experience apparently left a lasting impression in the Filipino government. The Defense Secretary of the Republic, Delfin Lorenzana, wholeheartedly greeted the assurance of Admiral Thomas and reiterated the Philippines’ adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). “We are glad that the US Navy is helping the Philippines to facilitate the exercise of our sovereign rights to our maritime entitlements,” Lorenzana said.

The presence of the US Navy has been a fixture in the Indo-Pacific for a long time, and regularly sends ships through the South China Sea to conduct freedom of navigation (FON) operations. This has long been a source of annoyance to China, and they have continued to challenge the presence of US vessels in the waters.

In recent days, US Navy’s fleet of Aircraft Carriers has collaborated with Philippine forces in a series of joint drills in the South China Sea. Thomas said these drills were necessary for two reasons: “One, to demonstrate that the US Navy will be supportive of any nation’s right to freedom of navigation and two, to demonstrate our capability and also demonstrate that we are a coherent force.”

Thomas goes on to say that the US would also appreciate the efforts of the Filipino people in the region’s maritime security. “We completely support the efforts of the Filipino people to maintain security in the region, and we are honored to be part of this process.”

The assurance of the US Navy provides a much-needed show of solidarity and support from one of the Philippines’ strongest allies. This spirit of cooperation will certainly serve as a great hope for a more peaceful and prosperous future in the Indo-Pacific region.