US fully committed to the MDT

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2021 - 12:00am

During my lunch meeting with White House National Security Council officials, it was made clear the United States will stand by its commitment with our mutual defense treaty. No less than President Biden himself made this commitment in a letter he recently wrote to President Duterte. In that letter, he congratulated both countries in celebrating twin milestones – the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Philippines, and the 70th anniversary of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

The same commitment was communicated early on by US State Secretary Antony Blinken right after his confirmation, when he called Secretary Teddyboy Locsin, reaffirming the strong alliance between the US and the Philippines and the vital role this alliance plays in sustaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. I have not seen this kind of unequivocal statement from the State Department and the White House in all my years dealing with the United States both in my private capacity and currently, as the Philippine ambassador to the United States.

Even President Joe Biden himself is cognizant of the special bond between the two nations and the shared interest in ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea – and that any armed attack on Philippine armed forces, aircraft or public vessels would trigger MDT obligations. The US has clearly stated that they recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling that rejected China’s sweeping claims within areas falling within the so-called nine-dash line as having “no basis in law.”

During our meeting last Wednesday with the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of the 9th District of Washington, we discussed the activities we have lined up to commemorate the milestones in US-Philippines bilateral relations. We conveyed to Congressman Smith that we value our alliance with the US and that we welcome the Biden administration’s plan to work closely with allies and partners to collectively address global issues and concerns, not only pertaining to maritime security but the pandemic situation as well. We agreed to keep an open line of communication to discuss issues of interest and concern.

We were informed about a little bit of the hullaballoo on Secretary Locsin’s outburst in his frustration regarding the situation in Scarborough Shoal due to repeated incursions by Chinese vessels. Many Filipino Americans, including our friends in the US government, told me they were extremely pleased at the courage displayed by Secretary Locsin, many of them hailing him for his bold assertion that Scarborough Shoal and the West Philippine Sea belong to the Philippines “not by mere claim but by absolute right and legal victory.”

I also received emails and messages saying that while it may be true that the Philippines cannot go head-to-head against China, they are heartened by assurances that the US will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines to ensure our security. Along with this is the commitment made by the US to help modernize the Philippines’ armed forces and boost the country’s maritime capability. To this end, the US has offered to transfer five Cyclone-class vessels that will beef up the capability of the Philippine Navy to patrol its maritime territory and sustain operations in disputed areas.

A lot of Filipino Americans are pleased to see the Philippine Coast Guard asserting our sovereign rights when they warned – and drove away – Chinese militia vessels roaming around Sabina Shoal which is within our exclusive economic zone. The Philippine Coast Guard plans to beef up its personnel and is preparing to acquire more assets, including at least two multirole response vessels that they hope to receive from Japan, and offshore patrol vessels from France.

We informed Congressman Smith that we really welcome efforts from US partners and allies to help address global concerns and ensure freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region. For starters, the UK will be sending a full-strength carrier strike group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will be traveling from May to December to the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea, from the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea and will sail through the South China Sea. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described the HMS Queen Elizabeth as “a floating piece of sovereign territory… a warship, a mothership, a surveillance reconnaissance ship, a convener of allies and partners and a great projector of Britain’s soft and hard power.”

As retired US Navy admiral James Stavridis noted, the British strike force’s planned stops in India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea “demonstrates the unity those allied nations are showing with the US in its growing rivalry with China.”

This was evident in the joint communique issued by the foreign ministers of the G7 countries – United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Japan – expressing “strong opposition to any unilateral actions that escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order, such as the threat or use of force, large-scale land reclamation and building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes.” Significantly, the G7 cited the 2016 arbitral award as a “useful basis for further efforts to peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea” – underscoring the recognition among nations that the PCA ruling is final and legally binding.

Short note on the vaccines: Through the intercession of the White House, two million doses of AstraZeneca and 1.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccines will be delivered to the Philippines beginning mid-May through the COVAX facility as confirmed by Secretary Galvez. Moderna will begin delivery on June 21.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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