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The US and the Philippines are deepening their strategic partnership as Chinese threats loom in the South China Sea

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden The Philippine government on Friday once again reassured the Philippines that the US commitment to the country’s defense is steadfast, amid growing concerns over provocative Chinese actions in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

A day after President Joe Biden convened a trilateral summit involving himself, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. the US and Philippine Secretaries of State and Defense and National Security Advisors met to discuss strategic and military issues.

Secretary of State Anthony BlinkenDefense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hosted their Philippine counterparts at the State Department.

“Today’s meeting reflects the growing and deepening agreement between our countries on a wide range of issues and, of course, our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea,” Blinken said in a brief opening statement . “We are very pleased with this opportunity to continue that partnership, that cooperation, and of course we stand with the Philippines in our ironclad defense commitments, including the Mutual Defense Treaty.”

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Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo echoed these comments. “We attach great importance to this meeting, especially in light of the recent developments in the South China Sea, especially the escalation of Chinese intimidation,” he said. “We are committed to asserting our sovereign rights, especially within our exclusive economic zone.”

On Thursday, Biden said at the summit that America’s treaty obligations to its Pacific allies such as Japan and the Philippines were “ironclad.” “Any attack on Philippine aircraft, ships or forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty,” Biden said.

The White House characterized the first trilateral summit with Japan and the Philippines as a strong response to China’s “intimidation” efforts and said it would send the message that China is “the outlier in the neighborhood,” an administration official said.

The US and the Philippines have had a mutual agreement for more than seventy years. Biden’s strong reinforcement of the US commitment comes amid ongoing skirmishes between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards in the disputed South China Sea.

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Relations between China and the Philippines have been repeatedly tested by clashes involving the two countries’ coast guard ships there. Chinese coast guard ships also regularly approach disputed Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea near Taiwan.

China’s so-called “gray zone” intimidation included shining military-grade lasers on the Philippine coast guard, firing water cannons at ships and ramming Philippine ships near the Second Thomas Shoal, which both Manila and Beijing claim. In 1999, Manila deliberately ran a World War II ship aground on the shoal, establishing a permanent military presence there.

Chinese officials have criticized their actions in the South China Sea and blamed the US for exacerbating tensions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Second Thomas Shoal – a major source of contention with the Philippines – and over the Senkaku Islands, and said its actions in the South and East China Sea are justified. lawful and blameless.

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“We firmly oppose relevant countries flexing their muscles and behaving like bullies in the South China Sea,” she said. “Relevant countries are aligning themselves with countries outside the region out of selfish interests and serving as their pawns to contain China. Our message to these countries: recent history teaches us that pawns will eventually be easily abandoned.”

Biden, a Democrat, has made improving relations with the Philippines a priority since Marcos became president of the country in June 2022. The relationship has had its ups and downs over the years and was in a difficult situation when Marcos took office. According to human rights groups, Marcos’ predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs led to thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Marcos, the son and namesake of the country’s former dictator, said he would pursue closer ties with China as a candidate. But he has increasingly drifted toward Washington amid concerns about China’s coercive measures.

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