US Vice President Kamala Harris, on Monday, warned that an armed attack on the Philippines in the disputed waters of the South China Sea would trigger a joint response from the US.
"An attack on the Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke the US mutual defense commitment... that is our unwavering commitment to the Philippines," Harris said after a meeting with Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made similar remarks in July of 2022.
The vice president's visit and subsequent speech showed an improving relationship with the Asian country after years of deterioration under Beijing-friendly Rodrigo Duterte's time in office. In 2016, Duterte had also called Barack Obama a "son of a whore", in response to warnings by the former US President over Duterte's drug war.
Harris further spoke of the "long and enduring” relationship between the US and the Philippines and emphasized the two countries' continued alliance in defense of international rules and norms. Marcos, in his statement, said that he did not "see a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States."
The Philippines and China have been locked in decades-long conflict over the resource-rich marine region. That is despite a 2016 international court ruling which largely went in the Philippine's favor. Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei also have overlapping claims.
Case of the 'unidentified floating object'
Harris' visit was foreshadowed by an incident between the Philippines navy and the Chinese coast guard in the disputed waters. According to reports, a Chinese vessel blocked a Philippine navy tugboat which was moving towards the Thitu island and pulling an "unidentified floating object" it had retrieved from the sea.
Having blocked the tugboat, the Chinese deployed a team which "forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line attached to the (Filipino) rubber boat," Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said.
The object is suspected to be floating debris from a Chinese rocket which were recovered earlier this month, military spokeswoman Major Cherryl Tindog told reporters.
The Philippine's foreign department said it was aware of the incident and is waiting for a detailed report from the maritime law enforcement agencies.
mk/dj (Reuters, AFP)