US defense chief tells Marcos: We'll always have your back in South China Sea
MANILA (UPDATE) — US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III on Wednesday night assured President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. that Washington would support Manila on issues surrounding the South China Sea, as tensions continued in the disputed waters.
Austin hosted Marcos at The Pentagon to tackle recent developments on expanding and modernizing bilateral defense cooperation "in support of a vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and rules-based international order shared by both countries," said Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.
The Pentagon said Marcos and Austin reaffirmed the two countries' commitments under the Mutual Defense Treaty, which covers "their respective Coast Guards in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea."
This was based on the Bilateral Defense Guidelines, established on May 3 by Acting Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez and Austin, a fact sheet showed.
Article V of the 1951 treaty states that any armed attack on either of the US and Philippines' armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, will trigger the agreement.
"President Biden has made clear our commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad. And let me tell you once again that our Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks on our armed forces, coast guard vessels, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific including anywhere in the South China Sea," Austin told Marcos in his speech.
"So, make no mistake Mr. President, we will always have your back in the South China Sea or elsewhere in the region," he added.
For his part, Marcos said this development heeded the "call of the times."
"And the call of the times unfortunately is asking for us to meet these challenges — new challenges that perhaps we have not faced before," he said.
The President cited the importance of his previous meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as his visit continued exchanges they have started.
The meeting concluded with the establishment of the new bilateral defense guidelines, which laid out plans to modernize alliance cooperation for the two countries' "shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region."
The Philippine Coast Guard earlier in the day said some 100 Chinese ships remained at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea, over a week since they were first monitored in the area.
It also spotted 2 Chinese Coast Guard vessels in Ayungin Shoal in its latest monitoring.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.
To back Beijing's claim, hundreds of Chinese coast guard and other vessels patrol the waters, swarming reefs and harassing and attacking fishing and other boats.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse