Much is expected from both sides when the echoes of polite laughter and carefully crafted language of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and visiting US Vice President Kamala Harris have subsided.
The two leaders met in Malacanang Monday, the day after Harris arrived in the Philippines, where she attended the Asia Pacific Economic Conference summit in Bangkok which Mr. Marcos also attended.
It was in that meeting in Malacanang, the official residence of the Philippine head of state and government, by the Pasig River that the listening walls of the old palace heard the 58-year-old Harris reaffirmed Washington’s ‘’unwavering’’ security guarantees to Washington’s oldest Asian ally the Philippines.
“We must reiterate always that we stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as they relate to the South China Sea,” said Harris, the highest ranking US official to visit this country of 114 million under President Marcos.
She added, “an armed attack on the Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments. And that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines.”
The Filipino leader, who spoke before Harris, seven years his junior, himself recognized Manila’s long-standing alliance with Washington, stressing “I have said many times, I do not see a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States. That really has come from the very long relationship that we have had with the US.”
Beyond doubt, capitals in the region and nearby, including particularly Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi and Canberra have watched the historic meeting and read quick official printouts of the bilateral discussions.
They must have noted that security is at the top of the vice president’s agenda, marking down with keen eyes Harris’ visit Tuesday to Palawan fronting the South China Sea, a strategic waterway, where Beijing has flexed its military brawn to assert its cross-disciplinary claim.
Six years ago, the Philippines won an international arbitration case, where China did not participate in and has repeatedly nixed such ruling.
It is understood that Harris also sought to bolster security cooperation through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives the US armed forces access to Philippine military bases.
Washington, according to a senior US administration official said, has allocated $82 million for EDCA’s implementation “and more is on the way.”
“There are currently five EDCA locations. And we’re announcing now that we have identified new locations to deepen our work together,” the official said.