MANILA (UPDATE) — The United States and the Philippines on Friday held talks on how to improve the two nations’ alliance, including ways to uphold the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s excessive claims to the disputed South China Sea, the US State Department said.
In a statement, US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Cale Brown said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the top diplomat of the outgoing Trump administration, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. spoke through phone on Friday, affirming cooperation on the arbitral ruling.
“[Pompeo and Locsin] discussed opportunities to further reinforce the US-Philippine alliance and the binding nature of the 2016 arbitral tribunal award on all parties in the South China Sea,” the statement read.
“The two secretaries also discussed the economic, security, democratic, and people-to-people ties that make up the strong bond between our two countries,” the brief statement read.
Pompeo, meanwhile, said in a tweet that he spoke with Locsin about "shared interests" in the disputed area.
He pointed out that the alliance between the US and the Philippines is important for a "free and open" Indo-Pacific.
“Always good to speak with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs [Secretary Locsin] about our shared interests in the South China Sea. The U.S.-Philippine Alliance is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific. #FriendsPartnersAllies,” Pompeo tweeted.
The US has been vocal in asserting freedom of navigation in the disputed sea, a critical waterway for global trade. China is asserting ownership over nearly all of the waters, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have partial claims.
The US has also backed claimants to develop oil and gas resources in their respective exclusive economic zones in the waters, criticizing China for pressing its “unlawful maritime claim” by bullying its neighbors.
President Rodrigo Duterte, on the other hand, told fellow Southeast Asian leaders recently that the 4-year-old arbitral ruling against Beijing's sweeping claims in the South China Sea "cannot be diminished nor ignored."
The 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed panel, which invoked the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, "is now part of international law," according to Duterte.