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Blinken underscores ‘ironclad’ assist for the Philippines because it clashes with China in disputed sea

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a gathering with Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, on March 19, 2024.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored Washington’s “ironclad commitment” on March 19 to assist defend the Philippines in case of an armed assault towards its forces after clashes between Chinese and Filipino coast guards within the disputed South China Sea just lately turned extra hostile.

Mr. Blinken, the newest high-level official to go to the United States treaty ally, met his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo on March 19 earlier than individually assembly President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila.

President Joe Biden will host Mr. Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in a White House summit in April. The three are prone to focus on rising issues over more and more aggressive Chinese actions within the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear program.

“We stand with the Philippines and stand by our ironclad defence commitments, including under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Mr. Blinken stated in a information convention with Mr. Manalo.

“We have a shared concern about the PRC’s actions that threaten our common vision for a free, open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea and in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” Mr. Blinken stated, utilizing the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China. He cited “repeated violations of international law and the rights of the Philippines: water cannons, blocking manoeuvres, close shadowing other dangerous operations.”

The Chinese coast guard blocked and used water cannons towards Philippine vessels in a confrontation two weeks in the past that barely injured a Filipino admiral and 4 of his sailors close to the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. The March 5 faceoff within the excessive seas additionally induced two minor collisions between Chinese and Philippine vessels and prompted Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs to summon China’s deputy ambassador to convey a protest towards the Chinese coast guard’s actions, which the Philippines stated had been unacceptable.

EDITORIAL | Troubled waters: On the tensions between China and the Philippines

The Chinese coast guard stated then that “it took control measures in accordance with the law against Philippine ships that illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to Ren’ai Reef,” the identify Beijing makes use of for Second Thomas Shoal.

The Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied by a small Philippine navy contingent however surrounded by Chinese coast guard ships and different allied vessels, was the location of a number of tense skirmishes between Chinese and Philippine coast guard ships up to now 12 months. But Filipino officers stated the confrontation earlier this month was notably critical due to the accidents sustained by its navy personnel and injury to their vessel.

Mr. Blinken renewed a warning on March 19 that the U.S. is obligated underneath a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the Philippines if Filipino forces, ships or plane come underneath an armed assault anyplace within the South China Sea.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian rejected Mr. Blinken’s feedback on Chinese aggression within the South China Sea.

“The U.S. is just not a celebration to the South China Sea concern and has no proper to intervene in maritime points between China and the Philippines,” Mr. Lin said. “China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly defend its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Both Mr. Blinken and Mr. Manalo described their countries’ treaty alliance as being on “hyper-drive,” but acknowledged that more could be done. They said efforts to shore up defence ties were not aimed against any country.

Beijing has repeatedly said that Mr. Marcos’ decision to allow the expansion of American military presence in the Philippines under a 2014 defence pact could undermine the security of China and the region.

U.S. and Philippine forces plan to hold their largest annual combat exercises in April in the Philippines. The area would include a northern region just a sea away from Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.

“We reaffirmed our shared view that a strong and capable Philippines would make a formidable ally for the United States,” Mr. Manalo said.

Also Read: Second Thomas Shoal | A symbol of defiance

Mr. Blinken said that “the alliance has never been stronger, but we not only have to sustain that, we have to continue to accelerate the momentum.”

Outside the presidential palace in Manila, dozens of left-wing activists tore a mock U.S. flag in a noisy rally on March 19 to oppose Mr. Blinken’s visit and Washington’s involvement in the long-simmering territorial disputes.

Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the resource-rich and busy waterway, a key global trade route.

Beijing claims virtually all the South China Sea. In the previous decade, China has turned barren reefs into seven islands that now function missile-protected island bases — together with three with runways — which have bolstered its functionality to fortify its territorial claims and patrols.

In response, Washington has been strengthening an arc of navy alliances and safety ties within the Indo-Pacific, together with with the Philippines, Vietnam and different international locations at odds with China within the disputed sea.

After China successfully seized one other disputed atoll — the Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines — in 2012, Manila introduced its disputes with Beijing to worldwide arbitration and largely received. China, nonetheless, rejected the 2016 ruling of the United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated its expansive claims on historic grounds, and continues to defy the choice.

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