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US after China water cannon incident: Armed attack vs. Philippines to trigger defense treaty

The United States is standing by its treaty ally the Philippines after the Chinese Coast Guard blocked and fired water cannons at resupply ships en route to the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, the US also reaffirmed that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under the 1951 Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty.

"The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of this escalation that directly threatens regional peace and stability, escalates regional tensions, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. 

Article Four of the PHL-US treaty provides that each party recognizes that an "armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes."

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed American defense commitments to Manila and pledged to "stand with our Philippine allies" in a call on Friday with his counterpart in the Philippines, Delfin Lorenzana.

"They agreed on the vital importance of peace and stability in the South China Sea and pledged to stay in close contact in the coming days," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Another State Department spokesperson, who did not want to be identified by name, called the actions of the Chinese coast guard "dangerous, provocative, and unjustified."

"This is the latest in a series of Beijing-directed actions meant to intimidate and provoke other nations, undermining peace and security in the region as well as the rules-based international order," the spokesperson said.

Washington has repeatedly condemned China's assertive pursuit of its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.

The United States has sailed regular naval patrols in the sea to challenge China's claims. In February, the State Department said it was concerned by language in a new Chinese law that tied potential use of force, including armed force, by the Chinese coast guard to the enforcement of China's claims. -NB, GMA News with Reuters