Under shadow of US-China tensions, Blinken reaffirms defense pact with Philippines

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Under shadow of US-China tensions, Blinken reaffirms defense pact with Philippines
US State Secretary Antony Blinken arrives in Manila on August 6, 2022 for a visit where he is expected to renew Washington's 'ironclad' commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty with Manila.
Release / US State Secretary Antony Blinken / Twitter

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 11:50 a.m.) — US State Secretary Antony Blinken arrived over the weekend in the country for the first day of his two-day official visit where he affirmed Washington’s commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty with Manila.

“We’re committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty. We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges,” Blinken told President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during their former’s courtesy at the MalacañanA.

The US’ reaffirming of the MDT, a 1951 pact with Manila that provides that the two countries will come to each other’s defense in the event that a foreign force attacks their metropolitan areas or Pacific territories, comes at a crucial juncture when tensions between Washington and Beijing are escalating over Taiwan.

Friction has been building up between the US and China for the longest time, but US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the democratic, self-governing island of Taiwan that Beijing considers to be a renegade province brought tensions to new heights.

China has since flexed its military might, and is set to press ahead with its largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan despite firm statements of condemnation by the US, Japan and the European Union.

In other areas, such as the South China Sea which the Philippines claims parts of and calls the West Philippine Sea, Beijing had also been seen as aggressive in the past years as it supposedly maintained hundreds of militia ships and forced Filipino fishermen out of the waters.

‘Constant evolution’

During their meeting, Marcos told Blinken that he thinks that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan merely put a spotlight on the intensity of the conflict between the US and China.

“I did not think it raised the intensity, it just demonstrated it — how the intensity of that conflict has been. It actually has been at that level for a good while, but we got used to it and put it aside,” Marcos said.

The president said that this, along with other international conflicts particularly Russia’s war with Ukraine, highlights the importance of US-Philippines relations, which he hopes “will continue to evolve … in the face of all the challenges.”

Change is also at the top of mind of Marcos when he spoke about the MDT, telling Blinken that the pact “is in constant evolution,” in what appears to be a continuation of the Duterte administration’s policy on the treaty.

Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippines’ defense chief under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, had proposed an amendment to the MDT to make it clear whether Washington would come to Manila’s aid in the South China Sea.

Blinken had assured in a phone call with Teodoro Locsin Jr., Duterte's foreign affairs secretary, that the MDT also applies in the South China Sea.

This is the first time since 2019 that the Philippines welcomed a US’ top diplomat to ourshores, Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia. That year, Mike Pompeo visited Manila also underscoring America’s commitment to the MDT.

Aside from the MDT, Blinken is also expected to discuss with Marcos trade and investment and on clean energy, advancing shared democratic values and strengthening respect for human rights, including press freedom.

“I look forward to reinforcing the strong US-Philippine relationship and our shared commitments to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, security, and prosperity,” Blinken said as he arrived in Manila. — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag, The STAR/Pia Lee Brago and AFP

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