Top Philippine and US diplomats discussed the swarming of Chinese militia vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed Washington’s defense obligation to its oldest military ally in Asia.
Blinken gave this assurance during a phone conversation with his counterpart Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday.
“Substantive conversation today with my Philippine counterpart, [Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr.], discussing our concerns with People’s Republic of China militia vessels in the South China Sea and our efforts to combat anti-Asian hate and violence,” Blinken posted on Twitter.
In a separate statement, US State Department spokesman Ned Price disclosed that during the talks, Blinken “reaffirmed the applicability of the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty to the South China Sea.”
“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, Jr. Both expressed their shared concerns with the massing of PRC maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea, including at Whitsun Reef, and reiterated their calls on the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to abide by the 2016 arbitration ruling issued pursuant to the Law of the Sea Convention,” the US State Department spokesman said.
Price was referring to the July 2016 Arbitral Award rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines that invalidated China’s expansive nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea. China refused to recognize the arbitral ruling.
“We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order,” Price said.
He stressed that an armed attack against the Philippine military, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including the South China Sea, “will trigger our obligations under US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.”
The MDT, a deal signed by Manila and Washington in 1952, provides that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either the Philippines or the US would be dangerous and that they would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with their constitutional processes.
The two top diplomats also discussed the rising anti-Asian hate attacks in the United States and what the Biden administration was doing to combat them.
A series of anti-Asian attacks has recently been reported in the US, including the latest incident involving a 65-year-old Filipino-American woman in New York.
Locsin on Friday clarified that only an armed attack on a Philippine public vessel can trigger the United States obligations under the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.
“Wrong vessel. MDT triggered only by an attack on a PH public vessel,” Locsin posted on his Twitter account.
Locsin made the statement following reports that armed Chinese ships chased away a Filipino vessel carrying a news crew in the West Philippine Sea.
A public vessel refers to a vessel owned or bareboat chartered and operated by the Philippine government.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, under the direction of the Department of National Defense, said it would investigate the incident, which prompted Locsin to urge the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to immediately agree on the adoption of the proposed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea “whereby all parties, China included, accept restraints.”
“As China coordinator, the Philippines insists on ASEAN cooperation and no dilly-dallying which is what’s happening. Covid is no excuse,” Locsin said.
Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel on Friday called for joint naval war games between the Philippines and the United States and the signing a new “Manila Declaration” strongly renewing the allegiance of the two countries to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
“We should have another Manila Declaration, considering China’s plan to occupy more areas in the West Philippine Sea that are clearly within our 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone,” Pimentel, House strategic intelligence committee chairman, said.
Ten years ago, the Philippines and the US signed the Manila Declaration, which reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty that binds the two countries to support and defend each other militarily.
The 2011 declaration was signed by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the deck of the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald docked in Manila.
Pimentel, a backer of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), also pushed for the conduct of joint naval exercises between the Philippines and the US “to improve coordination between our warships.”
“We should have annual training maneuvers to enhance the capabilities of our new Rizal class guided missile frigates and AW159 Wildcat naval choppers,” Pimentel said.
“The regular drills will also heighten the maritime domain awareness of our naval commanders as well as the interoperability of our combat ships,” Pimentel said.
US President Joseph Biden, in his first major foreign policy speech in February, called America’s alliances around the world its “greatest asset” and vowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with partners.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III had also reiterated America’s commitment to the 70-year-old MDT and the VFA in an introductory phone conversation with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
On Friday, the South China Morning Post reported that the US has stepped up its military presence in the South China Sea, reportedly sending an amphibious assault vessel to the disputed waters amid heightened tensions in the region.
Satellite data showed that the USS Makin Island amphibious-ready group (ARG) travelled through the Strait of Malacca into the contentious waters from late on Wednesday until the early hours of Thursday, the Post said, quoting the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative. The group included amphibious assault ship the USS Makin Island and the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego, the think tank said.
Sailors on the USS Makin Island were conducting “a live-fire training exercise”, the US Indo-Pacific Command tweeted on Thursday, along with a hashtag calling for a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”