US reaffirms commitment to PH against armed attack in South China Sea

The United States on Monday reaffirmed its commitment to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and come to the defense of the Philippines in case of an armed attack against its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea.

US State Secretary Antony J. Blinken (US State Department website)

US State Secretary Antony J. Blinken reiterated Washington’s commitment as the world commemorates the fifth anniversary of the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippine petition to invalidate China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea.

“The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea. We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” the US State secretary said.

Blinken also called on Beijing to abide by its obligations under international law, cease its provocative behavior, and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries, big and small.

Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In the same statement, Blinken emphasized that freedom of the seas is an enduring interest of all nations and is vital to global peace and prosperity.

“The international community has long benefited from the rules-based maritime order, where international law, as reflected in the UN Law of the Sea Convention, sets out the legal framework for all activities in the oceans and seas. This body of international law forms the basis for national, regional, and global action and cooperation in the maritime sector and is vital to ensuring the free flow of global commerce,” he pointed out.

He, however, said rules-based maritime order has been under greater threat in the South China Sea because Beijing China “continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway”.

On July 12, 2016, the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) handed down a unanimous decision rejecting the China’s expansive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea as having no basis in international law.

The Tribunal stated, among others, that China has no lawful claim to the area determined by the Arbitral Tribunal to be part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.