PH should leverage defense pact with US amid China intrusion in West PH Sea - analyst


Posted at Mar 25 2021 09:30 AM | Updated as of Mar 25 2021 09:50 AM

PH should leverage defense pact with US amid China intrusion in West PH Sea - analyst 1
Chinese vessels are seen on March 22, 2021 in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the "incursion" violates the Philippines' maritime rights as the vessels are encroaching into Manila's sovereign territory. Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

MANILA - The Philippines should leverage its defense treaty with the United States as deterrence against China's latest incursion near Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, an analyst said Thursday.

"The Philippines' vessel for short-term deterrence against Chinese violence is to leverage its Mutual Defense Treaty with the US," Greg Poling, director of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative-Center for Strategic and International Studies, told ANC.

The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines binds both countries to aid each other in the event of foreign aggression.

The US has said it was standing with the Philippines as it criticized China's move. 

"It's certainly key that messaging from both Manila and Washington to make clear to China that we are united in this. That China can't just pick a fight with the Philippines and expects US to do nothing," he said.

But Poling noted the Philippines couldn't invoke the MDT without the Visiting Forces Agreement, which lays out the terms on the entry and visit of American troops for military exercises.

Another pact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, is an executive agreement forged by the 2 parties in 2014 that allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally cancelled the VFA last year, in an angry response to the cancellation of the US visa of his close ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa. 

The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however, to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms to be agreed.

"If there were violence against Filipinos right now, the US doesn't have any forces in the Philippines. The closest US forces are out in Okinawa, 13,000 miles from this reef. It would take us 2 days to get there," Poling said.

The Philippine government this week filed a diplomatic protest on the presence Chinese militia vessels on Julian Felipe Reef.

The reef, also known as Whitsun Reef, is a large boomerang shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Banks), located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan. 

It is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, over which the country owns exclusive right to use resources, including fish, oil and natural gas. The waters are within the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.

"China wants to establish de facto if not legal control over waters, seabed and airspace in different parts of South China Sea," Poling said. "It's doing that by keeping hundreds of militia boats, just swarming the area."

Poling said the Philippines should continue to seek diplomatic action against China to end its use of paramilitary forces in Philippine waters.

"This is not the way that responsible, great powers behave. This is the way that rogue states behave," he said.

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