US vows to back PH amid sea tension

The United States on Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to come to the defense of the Philippines in the event that it is attacked, particularly in the West Philippines Sea, Manila’s exclusive economic zone, which China also claims.

READ: PH backs US presence in South China Sea

US vows to back PH amid sea tension
MEETING OF MINDS. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (right) shakes hands with his Philippines counterpart Delfin Lorenzana after their joint press conference at the Department of Defense in Manila on Tuesday. AFP
The reaffirmation of its commitment under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty was made through US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper during a meeting with his counterpart, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in Manila.

“Recalling Secretary [of State Michael R.] Pompeo’s reaffirmation of the US commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty during his March 2019 visit to Manila, both secretaries reiterated the Mutual Defense Treaty’s applicability to the entire Pacific region, including the South China Sea,” a statement issued by the US Embassy in Manila said.

This joint statement between Esper and Lorenzana addressed some ambiguity in the MDT of 1951, which provides that the United States and the Philippines shall support each other if either were to be attacked by another country.

The treaty states that an attack on the metropolitan Philippines will trigger the MDT, but it was not clearly defined what part of the Philippines it covers.

Despite a warning from China for the US to stop “flexing its muscles” in the South China Sea, Esper and Lorenzana said the US and Philippines were committed to upholding the freedom of navigation, overflight, and other lawful uses of the sea in the South China Sea.

 “The Philippines noted that, as an ASEAN member, it has a crucial role to play in ensuring that these principles are enshrined in an eventual Code of Conduct for South China Sea claimant states,” the joint statement said.

“The United States acknowledged the importance of the unified vision and strategy enshrined in the member-adopted “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” and recognized ASEAN centrality as integral to its Indo-Pacific Strategy,” it added.

Esper noted that most participants in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Minister’s Meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand recently expressed concern over China’s “excessive claims” in the region.

The US Defense secretary said affected countries should take a “very public posture” to assert their sovereign rights and emphasize the importance of international law in the region.

“The signal that we are trying to send is that we all stand with international laws and I think China should abide by them as well, and that acting collectively is the best way to send that message,” Esper said.

During the meeting, Esper and Lorenzana also discussed a broad range of shared security interests and priorities.

The two defense secretaries also talked about proposals to help modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“They confirmed their shared commitment to further deepen and expand defense cooperation by reinforcing respective national defense capabilities and interoperability, enhancing joint military exercises, disaster response initiatives, and cybersecurity awareness, and improving defense infrastructure through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” the statement said.

On Monday, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said the US should stop “flexing its muscles” and not provoke tension in the South China Sea.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian disclosed that Wei told Esper that China is determined to maintain “peace and stability in the South China Sea and demands the US stop flexing its muscles in the South China Sea.”

READ: PH backs US presence in South China Sea

READ: US asserts right to fly, sail amid SCS tensions

READ: ‘Step up guard in disputed sea’

Topics: West Philippines Sea , 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty , Michael R. Pompeo , Mark T. Esper
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