United States assures PH amid feud with China: Mutual Defense Treaty applies to South China Sea

The United States has expressed concern over the presence of Chinese vessels in the South China Sea and vowed to support the Philippines under a mutual defense pact.

Photo of Chinese vessels spotted at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 27, 2021
(Photo courtesy of National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea / FILE PHOTO)

The latest Chinese activity in the disputed waters was among the issues discussed by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. during a telephone conversation Friday, April 9.

The two officials tackled their shared concerns and called on China to abide by the arbitral ruling that nullified its excessive claims in the disputed territory.

"Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, Jr. Both expressed their shared concerns with the massing of PRC maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea, including at Whitsun Reef, and reiterated their calls on the PRC to abide by the 2016 arbitration ruling issued pursuant to the Law of the Sea Convention," a statement from the US State Department read.

"Secretary Blinken also reaffirmed the applicability of the 1951 U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty to the South China Sea," it added.

The two officials likewise "welcomed enhanced bilateral and multilateral cooperation on the South China Sea."

The mutual defense treaty commits the Philippines and the United States to help each other if either of them is under external armed attack in the Pacific. The treaty was signed on August 30, 1951.

The Philippines earlier expressed deep concern over the unlawful stay of Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef, located within the country's waters. Around 44 Chinese ships reportedly remained in the reef while over 200 vessels have dispersed to other parts within the West Philippine Sea.

Manila has already filed a diplomatic protest over the latest Chinese incursion in local waters. Beijing however claimed the fishing vessels were simply taking refuge shelter due to rough sea conditions.

In a separate statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Locsin and Blinken "reaffirmed the importance of working closely to enhance the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States."

The defense pact has "stood strong for nearly 70 years, in light of the recent geopolitical developments and challenges in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in the West Philippine Sea," the DFA said.

Locsin likewise welcomed the assistance of the United States in the country's efforts in battling the coronavirus pandemic.

The US official likewise informed Locsin about the administration's efforts "to combat rising hate and violence against Asian-Americans." Manila earlier expressed concern over the hate crimes targeting Asians in the United States.

"Both Secretaries expressed confidence and optimism in the future trajectory of the Philippines-United States bilateral cooperation as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries," the DFA said.