MANILA — To ensure that rule of law prevails in the South China Sea (SCS), particularly the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Philippines continues to engage with "like-minded" countries, a defense official said.
"Admittedly, the volatile situation in the SCS and WPS remains the Philippines’ form of security concern and as it is right now, we continue to engage with like-minded countries and make sure that rules based on international order will prevail in the SCS," Department of National Defense officer-in-charge Jose Faustino Jr. said during his meeting with United States Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III at the US Indo-Pacific Command in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Thursday.
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea, and straddles one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
In 2016, an international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines to invalidate China’s claims demarcated by its so-called nine-dash line. Beijing, however, continues to ignore the ruling.
Under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Faustino said the Philippines will put importance on diplomacy and dialogue in dealing with issues in the disputed waters.
"Our next steps concerning the WPS and the SCS, the Philippines underscores the importance of diplomacy and dialogue for peaceful resolution of issues in the SCS," the defense chief said.
"This includes continuous engagement with China, and both bilateral and multilateral platforms or dialogues without prejudice, of course, to the PH’s position in the WPS to facilitate mutual trust and understanding."
Meanwhile, North Korea fired at least two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday, just hours after US Vice President Kamala Harris flew home after a visit to South Korea. This was the third round of missile launches by North Korea this week.
Reports say Pyongyang will also hold a nuclear test, threating the capability of the Philippines to enhance its security in the South China Sea.
But Faustino said the Philippines is banking on its defense deals with the US.
"We continue to stand by the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty and it has been the basis of the national defense policy of our country and we look forward after this bilateral meeting that we have a more robust cooperation, particularly in issues pertaining [to] external threats to our country, and coming up with other avenues of cooperation where we could discuss things with mutual interest to the US and PH," he noted.
This was echoed by the US, saying it is committed to promoting peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
"We remain committed to maintaining an open and free Indo-Pacific region. We want to maintain the ability to sail the seas and navigate the skies as we should be allowed to do and we will continue to work on that [until the very end]," said Austin.