US warns China over moves on ally Philippines
This March 22, 2021 aerial photo shows Chinese vessels still present in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
Armed Forces of the Philippines

US warns China over moves on ally Philippines

Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - April 9, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The United States has warned China over its increasing aggressive acts in the South China Sea, and reminded Beijing that any attack on the Philippines would trigger a military response from the US under its defense treaty with Manila.

“An armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price at a press briefing on Wednesday.

He also reaffirmed the US commitment to come to the aid of Taiwan if it gets attacked by China.

“The United States maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan,” he said, paraphrasing the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the US is obliged to provide the island with the means to defend itself against Beijing.

The State Department’s declarations came on the heels of Manila’s filing of diplomatic protests against China over the presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels around Julian Felipe Reef.

The boats, initially numbering more than 200, were first spotted on March 7. The reef is around 320 kilometers west of Palawan.

“We share the concerns of our Philippine allies regarding the continued reported massing of Chinese maritime militia near the Whitsun Reef,” Price said, referring to Julian Felipe Reef by its international name.

China, which claims almost the entirety of the resource-rich sea, has refused weeks of appeals by the Philippines to withdraw the vessels, which Manila says unlawfully entered its exclusive economic zone.

“We have reiterated our strong support for the Philippines and we have called on the People’s Republic of China to abide by the 2016 arbitral tribunal award under the Law of the Sea Convention, which is final and legally binding on all parties,” Price stated.

He was referring to the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, invalidating Beijing’s massive claim in the South China Sea and reaffirming the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

Price also aired concern over China’s ongoing efforts to intimidate in the region, including Taiwan.

Tensions have risen in Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of China, with the self-governing democracy on Wednesday reporting that 15 more planes from the mainland crossed into the island’s air defense zone.

President Joe Biden has vowed a robust defense of allies and, in a rare point of continuity with his predecessor Donald Trump, has supported strong pushback against Chinese assertiveness.

‘Leveraging’ alliances

In Manila, the Department of National Defense (DND) said that it is keeping its options open, including leveraging the country’s partnership with other nations in dealing with China’s recent incursions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“As the situation in the West Philippine Sea evolves, we keep all our options open in managing the situation, including leveraging our partnerships with other nations such as the United States. We remain committed to protecting and defending our national interests, while upholding the security and stability in the region through peaceful and rules-based approach,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.

Political coalition 1Sambayan, for its part, is urging President Duterte to speak up and act on the continuing Chinese incursions in Philippine waters.

In a statement released in time for today’s commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan, the group also expressed support for the DFA’s filing of diplomatic protests against China over the Julian Felipe incursion.

The group seeks to field a unified opposition slate against the administration in next year’s elections.

It urged Filipinos to remember the country’s heroes by continuing their struggle, this time against “China’s invasion of our sovereign territory and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.”

“Abandoning the legacy of Araw ng Kagitingan and the bravery of our people in standing up to foreign invaders is a betrayal of their memory and our beloved country,” the group said.

Led by retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, 1Sambayan is composed of former justices, government officials and pro-democracy groups coming from various sectors.

Militant fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas also slammed Duterte over his silence on the latest Chinese violation of Philippine sovereignty.

“Key government officials have already reproached the continuing Chinese presence in the Philippine waters, and yet the Commander-in-Chief has yet to manifest an unequivocal stand against a crystal-clear maritime aggression,” the Pamalakaya said in a press statement yesterday. – Janvic Mateo, Romina Cabrera, Elizabeth Marcelo, AFP

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