USS Blue Ridge
US 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) transits in the South China Sea in 2014.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Phillip Pavlovich
'Invoking' defense pact, Duterte calls on US to send fleet to China
( - July 17, 2019 - 3:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he was invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty with America for the US Navy to send its 7th Fleet to China, a move that some might not consider defensive.

"I'm calling now America. I'm invoking the RP-US pact," the president said Wednesday on Pastor Apollo Quiboloy's "Give Us This Day" program, referring to the 1951 MDT between the two countries.

"I would like America to gather all their 7th Fleet in front of China. I'm asking them now. I will join them," the president said. 

The 7th Fleet, headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, is part of the US Navy's Pacific Fleet. According to its website, the 7th Fleet has "at any given time...roughly 50-70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, and approximately 20,000 sailors."

Duterte said that "when the Americans say, 'We're here now, ready,' I will press them." 

RELATED: Sea militia attacks could trigger US obligations under defense treaty

MDT meant to protect against armed attacks

Under the MDT, the parties "separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack."

They also agree that "an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes."

In his visit to Manila in March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the Philippines that any armed attack in the South China Sea will trigger the MDT. 

"As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea would trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty," Pompeo said.

But neither the treaty nor Pompeo mentioned sending ships to confront another nation as a defensive action.

Duterte said he would bring Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario "on the boat where [the] admiral of the US" would be riding and implied fighting would start then.

"Maybe that would be the end of Palawan. Palawan may be devastated, maybe occupied or if there will be nuclear bombs it will dry up," the president, who has insisted that pressing the Philippine claim to the West Philippine Sea would lead to war with China.

Duterte's statements have sometimes been explained away by his spokespersons as expressions of frustration, as hyperbole, or as just jokes. The Palace has said that Duterte's statements should be taken seriously but not literally, meaning they are not always policy statements.

Duterte's mention of the MDT is a repeat of a similar statement made earlier this month.

"They said we have a US-RP pact. Okay. Let America declare the war. Let them assemble all their armaments there in South China Sea. Fire the first shot and I'll be glad to do the next," he said despite the treaty's defensive nature.

RELATED: 'How?' Duterte asks amid call to keep Chinese out of Philippine EEZ

“This is my challenge, America, Britain, France: let us assemble in Palawan and proceed directly to Spratlys. Let us seize whatever we can seize,” Dutertealso said last month as he said that even the US is afraid of going against China.

"And they want me to put me on the line? They really want to put me at risk," he said then on June 26 after saying he has no way to keep Chinese ships from the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.

Carpio, whom Duterte has called stupid for criticizing the government's policy in the West Philippine Sea, has said that the president's warning of war with China "is an utterly false claim, designed to intimidate the Filipino people to submit to the will of China."

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