US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks during a joint press conference with his Philippines counterpart at the Department of Defense in Manila on November 19, 2019.
AFP/Ted Aljibe
Pentagon chief urges claimants to take 'public posture' on South China Sea
Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - November 20, 2019 - 5:13pm

MANILA, Philippines — Washington's top defense official urged claimant states in the South China Sea, including the Philippines, to assert sovereign rights in the disputed waterway.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to discuss Philippines-US ties.

In a press briefing Tuesday, Esper said "acting collectively" would be the best way to "get China on the right path."

China has been claiming indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea, which is also being contested by Southeast Asian countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

"I think it's incumbent upon all of us to take a very public posture and to assert our sovereign rights and to emphasize the importance of law," Esper said.

The Pentagon chief noted that concerns were raised over China's excessive claims over the South China Sea during the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus in Thailand earlier this month.

According to Esper, most of the ASEAN defense ministers are concerned over Beijing's lack of compliance with international laws, as well as its tactics to advance its own interests in the region.

"It is crucial that we stand together to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea," Esper said.

Esper also said the US is open to revisit provisions of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.

Lorenzana has been calling for a review of the decades-old treaty following China's expansive claims over the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

Earlier this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the Philippines that any armed attack on Filipino troops in the West Philippine Sea will trigger the treaty.

CHINA MARK ESPER SOUTH CHINA SEA UNITED STATES WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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