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PH, US officials take up Mutual Defense Treaty amid China harassment

PH, US officials take up Mutual Defense Treaty amid China harassment

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Top diplomats, and defense and security officials of the Philippines and the US met on Friday to discuss the Mutual Defense Treaty, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo raising the need for the talks to deter further escalation by China in the South China Sea.

In his opening remarks during the 3+3 Meeting at the US State Department, Manalo cited the importance of the discussions, adverting to the “harassment” by China, which injured four Filipino seamen.

“I think our meeting today will enable us to hopefully be in a better position to coordinate our response, both diplomatic and on the defense and security fronts in relation to any actions in the South China Sea, whether they’re positive or negative, including in the Ayungin Shoal,” Manalo said.

“So we also hope that this 3+3 meeting will be a regular event, and also reinforce our regular Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, as well as our ongoing maritime dialogue. And finally, we do underscore the need to continue further clarificatory discussions on the MDT, as we think this would also help in deterring further escalation by China,” he added.

In attendance for the meeting were US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Also representing the Philippines were National Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, and National Security Advisor Eduardo Año.

This comes as the China Coast Guard on March 23 water cannoned a Philippine resupply ship en route to the Ayungin Shoal, causing heavy damage and hurting Filipino sailors.

It was on a mission to provide supplies to the decrepit Navy vessel the BRP Sierra Madre that had been aground in the country’s outpost in the area.

“I think today’s meeting — an unprecedented 3+3 — reflects the growing and deepening cooperation between our countries on a broad array of issues, and of course our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“We very much welcome this opportunity to pursue that cooperation, collaboration, and of course, we stand with the Philippines in our ironclad defense commitments, including the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added.

“We all know that our shared security relies on strong military bonds, shared economic opportunities, and robust people-to-people ties. And at the Department of Defense, we're working in lockstep with our colleagues at the Department of National Defense, to strengthen interoperability between our forces, to expand our operational coordination, and to stand up to coercion in the South China Sea,” Austin said.

“And later today, I’ll be hosting President (Ferdinand “Bongbong”) Marcos (Jr.) at the Pentagon, and I’ll share with you what I’m going to tell him, and that is that the United States and the Philippines are more than allies — we’re family,” he added.

The meeting is on the heels of the Trilateral Leaders Summit on Thursday among Marcos, US President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Following the summit, leaders of the three countries released a Joint Vision Statement indicating the possibility of more combined naval training and exercises together, with Manila set to receive support for its defense modernization priorities.

The statement also reiterated the countries’ “serious concerns” over China’s “dangerous and aggressive” behavior in the South China Sea, as the leaders cited the 2016 Arbitral Ruling that states the Ayungin Shoal — a submerged reef among the Spratly Islands — lies within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

China has refused to acknowledge the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that invalidated its nine-dash line. Its government earlier said it will continue to adhere to what it described as a “friendly consultation” with the Philippines after several Chinese vessels have been found “swarming” areas in the West Philippine Sea. —NB, GMA Integrated News