A strong United States-Philippines alliance deters aggression and promotes stability in the region, a top US official said on Tuesday.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell made the statement even as the Philippines and the US reaffirmed their defense and security alliance against the backdrop of continued Chinese militarization of the South China Sea.
“As a treaty ally, our partnership with the Philippines is critical for realizing our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, with thriving sovereign nations. A strong US-Philippines alliance deters aggression and promotes regional stability,” Stillwell said, after a two-day bilateral strategic review in Manila.
“We welcome enhanced defense cooperation with the Philippines,” the US State Department official said, even as he reassured Filipinos that the US will come to the aid of Manila against external attack in the disputed maritime territories in SCS.
In a joint statement, the Philippines and the US “recognized the importance of a strong alliance in enhancing security cooperation and promoting regional stability and prosperity.”
“They recalled Secretary [Michael] Pompeo’s statements on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty during his March 2019 visit to Manila, particularly the clarification that the South China Sea is in the
Pacific, and that any armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the SCS will trigger Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” the statement stated.
Stilwell and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randy Schriver for the US and Philippines officials led by Foreign Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo and Department of National Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano for the Philippines have agreed to expand areas of defense and maritime cooperation.
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Both sides also agreed to improving defense infrastructure, updating personnel and logistics procedures, and increasing mutual communication and coordination on operational elements of regional security.
The two countries also said they will plan a range of activities to improve maritime domain awareness.
The reaffirmation of the security alliance between Manila and Washington comes amid Chinese continued militarization of the SCS, particularly transforming several former reefs into artificial islands with military facilities, runways, and surface to air missiles.
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While the US is not a party to the maritime disputes, Washington had declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the contested waters where China claimed nearly the entire SCS through its nine-dash-line claim, along with the overlapping claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
China earlier this month conducted a missile launch in the South China Sea, in a move that could heighten tensions in the resource-rich waters.
“As a claimant state in the South China Sea, the Philippines is well-positioned to ensure that the ASEAN code of conduct text is fully consistent with international law, protecting the freedom of
navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea for all countries, as well as the rights of claimant, states to pursue security and development arrangements with partners of their choosing,” Stilwell said.
Stilwell also said the US is committed to continuing its partnership with the Philippines to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups and to counter violent extremism.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the South China Sea issue was discussed in the working level and that US officials said its freedom of navigation patrols in the SCS would continue despite Chinese objections.
Romualdez said both countries have expressed concern over the missile tests, which Beijing has denied.
Romualdez also said the US has expressed support for the Philippines’ ongoing defense modernization program.
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