U.S. reaffirms defense vow

Jose Manuel Romualdez and Sung Kim
US ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim (R), speaks as the Philippines amba-ssador to the US, Jose Manuel Romualdez (L), looks on during a joint press confe-rence at the conclu-sion of ‘8th Bilateral and Strategic Dialogue’ at a hotel in Manila yesterday. AFP/Ted ALJIBE

THE United States yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to come to Manila’s aid in the event of an attack on the Philippines in the disputed waters in the South China Sea (SCS).

Both the Philippines and the US recognized the importance of a strong alliance in enhancing security cooperation and promoting stability and prosperity in the region.

A joint statement issued after the two-day Philippines-US 8th Bilateral Strategic Review in Manila said senior officials from both countries discussed a wide variety of issues of mutual interest and reaffirmed their commitment to deepening their alliance.

“They recalled Secretary (Michael) Pompeo’s statements on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) during his March 2019 visit to Manila, particularly the clarification that the South China Sea is in the Pacific, and that any armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the SCS will trigger Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” the statement said.

The senior officials, led by Foreign Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo and Department of National Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano for the Philippines and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randy Schriver for the US have also agreed to expand areas of cooperation such as improving defense infrastructure, updating personnel and logistics procedures, and increasing mutual communication and coordination on operational elements of regional security.

They said they will plan a range of activities to improve maritime domain awareness.

China, reports said, have been engaged in militarizing the SCS. And even if the US is not a party to the disputes, it has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the contested waters.

Early this month, reports also said that China conducted a missile launch in the South China Sea, a move that could escalate tensions in the disputed territory.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said both the Philippines and the US have expressed concern on the missile tests in the South China Sea.

For their part, US officials said American freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea would continue despite Chinese objections.

On the MDT review, Romualdez said there was no final decision on the proposed review of the Treaty but  discussions are ongoing on the issue and that this may be taken up in a scheduled meeting in September.

Romualdez said the US has expressed support for the Philippines’ ongoing defense modernization program.

Philippine and US officials also stressed the importance of peacefully resolving disputes in accordance with international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

They called for an effective and substantive conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a set of rules being negotiated by China and Southeast Asian nations aimed at preventing disputes from escalating into an armed conflict.

On security and counter-terrorism, senior officials pledged to deepen collaboration through improved information sharing, and port and aviation security, in order to prevent terrorist attacks within the Philippines, and the transit of foreign terrorist fighters into and within the country.

They also agreed to detect and combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the SCS, a territory believed rich in oil and gas reserves. The contested waters are being claimed nearly in their entirety by China.