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Monday, May 27, 2024

Biden to Marcos: Attack in WPS to trigger MDT

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US President Joe Biden on Thursday reaffirmed defense commitments to Japan and the Philippines, warning that any aggression in the South China Sea would activate its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with Manila.

“I want to be clear, the United States – United States defense commitments to Japan and the Philippines are ironclad. As I’ve said before, any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels, or Armed Forces in the South China Sea would invoke our Mutual Defense Treaty,” Biden said in his remarks at the opening of the trilateral summit with the Philippines and Japan in Washington DC.

The Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States, signed in 1951, underpins the close security cooperation between the two nations.

Describing Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as allies, Biden

emphasized their collective dedication to a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Mr. Marcos, seen as closer to Washington than his more China-leaning predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, said they shared an “unwavering commitment to the rules-based international order.”

PM Kishida said that “multi-layered cooperation is essential” and that “today’s meeting will make history.”

Beyond defense and maritime cooperation, the United States and Japan reiterated their commitment to assisting the Philippines in addressing climate change and fostering economic growth to create opportunities for Filipino citizens (see related stories – Editors).

Biden and Kishida solidified a stronger trilateral alliance with the Philippines during the historic summit, pledging to safeguard the Indo-Pacific region for the benefit of all nations.

President Marcos echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the shared commitment to a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region amid challenges to the international rules-based order.

In particular, the countries are looking at conducting more combined naval training and exercises together, with Manila set to receive support for its defense modernization priorities.

Based on the Joint Vision Statement from leaders of the three countries uploaded on the Ministry of Japan and the White House websites, they pledged to strengthen their cooperation in efforts to promote domain awareness, along with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

“We resolve to advance trilateral defense cooperation, including through combined naval training and exercises between our three countries and additional partners… and by coordinating US and Japanese support for Philippine defense modernization priorities,” the statement read.

Among the planned initiatives are combined training with Southeast Asian regional partners, and a Japan-Philippines-US humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercise.

The exercise could possibly be integrated into trilateral or multilateral activities, including Balikatan 2025, in a bid to ensure that the countries are prepared and able to work together through any crisis or contingency.

The countries also plan to hold a maritime training activity around Japan in 2025, after they held a multilateral maritime cooperative activity in the West Philippine Sea last week.

But Beijing on Friday criticized the three allies and defended its actions in the South China Sea as “lawful,” after a joint statement issued by the leaders of the trio of nations voiced “serious concern” over China’s actions in the waterway, slamming its behaviour as “dangerous and aggressive”.

Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Beijing “firmly opposes the relevant countries manipulating bloc politics, and firmly opposes any behaviour that provokes or lays plans for opposition and hurts other countries’ strategic security and interests.”

“We firmly oppose engaging in closed cliques that exclude others in the region,” Mao told a regular press conference.

“Japan and the Philippines can of course develop normal relations with other countries, but they should not invite factional opposition into the region, much less engage in trilateral cooperation at the cost of hurting another country’s interests. With AFP

“If these are not wanton smears and attacks on China, what are they?” she said.

“China’s actions in the East China Sea and South China Sea are appropriate and lawful, and beyond reproach,” Mao added.

The tensions, combined with saber rattling over China’s claims to the self-governing island of Taiwan, have prompted Biden to boost alliances in the region.

Meanwhile, Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Friday expressed optimism the historic trilateral summit would help accelerate the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

He said the assistance and security cooperation with the US and Japan would enhance the country’s ability to maintain a credible defense posture in the face of increasing aggressive provocations by China in the West Philippine Sea.

“The trilateral meeting presents a significant opportunity for strategic collaboration among like-minded allies in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Romualdez, leader of the 309-strong House of Representatives.

“I am optimistic that the discussions between President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida, and President Marcos, Jr. will pave the way for enhanced cooperation in advancing our defense capabilities and ensuring regional security and stability.”

He noted that on the eve of the historic trilateral meeting US Senators Bill Hagerty (Republican) and Tim Kaine (Democrat), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Philippines Enhanced Resilience Act of 2024 (PERA Act), a bill to strengthen and modernize the U.S.-Philippines alliance through significantly increased U.S. security assistance.

Among others, the bill annually authorizes $500 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant assistance to the Philippines for each of fiscal years 2025 through 2029—a total of $2.5 billion over five fiscal years.

Romualdez emphasized the urgency of bolstering the AFP’s modernization efforts to effectively address evolving security challenges, particularly in the West Philippine Sea to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He noted that last March 28, President Marcos issued a statement saying the Philippines will now implement a “response and countermeasure package that is proportionate, deliberate, and reasonable” against increasing illegal and dangerous provocations by China.

“By working closely with our allies, we can expedite the modernization of the AFP and enhance our ability to respond effectively to any potential threats to our national security,” the Speaker said.

Romualdez highlighted the trilateral meeting as an opportunity to deepen diplomatic ties and foster greater cooperation in addressing common security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region.

He expressed confidence that the discussions would push forward concrete initiatives aimed at promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.

Romualdez noted following separate high-level dialogues held last year, the Philippines and the United States agreed to develop the Philippine Security Sector Assistance Roadmap (P-SSAR) to support the Philippines’ defense modernization efforts.

Expected to be signed this year, the P-SSAR will facilitate US investments in the modernization of the AFP and the Philippine Coast Guard by providing a clear picture of our country’s capability requirements throughout 5 years as well as technologies the US can provide to match funding facilities.

Romualdez noted that on November 5, 2023, during the official visit to the Philippines of PM Kishida, an OSA—a new cooperation framework for security cooperation—was signed between the two countries for a grant of 600 million Yen or over USD4 million, for a brand-new Coastal Radar System,

The new Coastal Radar Systems will capacitate the AFP with additional Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

“As we confront the challenges posed by aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, it is imperative that we stand united with our allies to uphold the rules-based order and defend our shared values and interests,” Romualdez said.

He reaffirmed the unwavering commitment of the House of Representatives to supporting initiatives aimed at strengthening the Philippines’ defense capabilities and ensuring the nation’s security and sovereignty.

“The House of Representatives has been proactive in ensuring that our Armed Forces are sufficiently and properly equipped to safeguard our nation while also prioritizing the welfare of both retired and active-duty personnel,” he earlier assured AFP officials. With AFP

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