US promises to ‘defend’ another neighbor of China
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has paid a visit to Manila to meet the Philippines’ newly elected leader and reassure him of Washington’s full support in the face of China’s “destabilizing and dangerous” actions, following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between Washington and Manila remains “ironclad,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with his Philippines counterpart, Enrique Manalo, on Saturday.
“We always stand by our partners… an armed attack on Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under that treaty,” the top US diplomat said.
Besides discussing regional security issues with Foreign Secretary Manalo and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Blinken said they also spoke about deepening economic relations and “strengthening democracy.” Blinken has become the highest ranking US official to meet with the Philippines’ newly elected leader, a former dictator’s son, who was sworn in on June 30 after a landslide election victory earlier this year.
“The United States is committed to working collaboratively with the Philippines to defend the rule of the law, protect human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression – and safeguard civil society,” Blinken said.
“In addition to working with the Philippines to help secure its maritime domain, we also partner with Filipino fishermen and scientific researchers to preserve and protect the Philippines’ precious maritime resources.”
Speaking to the press, Secretary Manalo also touted the two countries’ “common values and shared commitment to democracy,” and welcomed Washington’s “assurances” it was ready to recognize Manila as an “equal, sovereign partner.”
“We looked at strengthening our cooperation to better address current and emerging security threats and cross-cutting challenges,” he added obscurely, barely mentioning China in the context of the Philippines’ territorial and fishing disputes with Beijing.
Managing relations with Washington and Beijing is a delicate issue for Manila. Located on the edge of the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines sits on a major geopolitical fault line, and is engaged in an ongoing territorial dispute with China over numerous islands in the sea. While an international tribunal in 2016 ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims, Marcos stated during his campaign that he would seek a new agreement with his “friends” in the Chinese government.
Blinken is currently on a ten-day trip to Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, Congo, and Rwanda. It follows Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Tuesday, despite repeated warnings from Beijing that doing so would have diplomatic and military consequences.
Although Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, China still claims sovereignty over the island and considers high-level visits like Pelosi’s to be tacit endorsements of Taiwanese independence. The US has officially recognized Beijing’s claim over Taiwan since the 1970s under the One-China policy.
In response to Pelosi’s visit, China launched large-scale military exercises, imposed trade restrictions on Taiwan, sanctioned Pelosi and her family, and cut communications with Washington on key issues like maritime security, transnational law enforcement, and climate change. As China’s military drills continued into the weekend, Chinese military officials are reportedly refusing to answer calls from their American counterparts.