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DND: US warning to China vs use of force affirms MDT

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows Chinese vessels anchored in Julian Felipe Reef, or the Whitsun Reef, located in the disputed
South China Sea on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. The United States said Tuesday it’s backing the Philippines in a new standoff with Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, where Manila has asked a Chinese fishing flotilla to leave a reef. China ignored the call, insisting it owns the offshore territory.

THE Department of National Defense (DND) welcomed the United States’s latest warning against China on the use of force in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), amid the Philippines’s demand for Beijing to remove its flotilla of paramilitary vessels within the country’s maritime waters.

“The US admonition to China against the use of force on Philippine public vessels and aircraft, which are performing their constitutional mandate to protect and defend Philippine rights in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, is an additional affirmation of the long-standing partnership between our two countries,” the DND through its spokesman Arsenio Andolong said.

“This also demonstrates the strength of our alliance and mutual commitment to promote the rules-based international order,” he added.

The DND statement comes a day after the Department of Foreign Affairs fired off another diplomatic protest over the continued reef occupation. DFA Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. had said Manila will lodge one protest for “each day” that Chinese vessels remain in the reef.

Andolong’s statement came just few hours after US Department of State spokesman Ned Price reiterated Washington’s support for the Philippines over the current imbroglio
in the West Philippine Sea, which was spawned by the swarming of Chinese maritime militia vessels.

“Well, Secretary [James] Blinken actually spoke to this just a couple days ago. He said on March 28 that the United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the PRC’s maritime militia amassing . . . ,” Price said in a news briefing on Thursday, Manila time.

“He said, we will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order,” the US State Department spokesman said.

“As we have stated before, an armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”

The 1951 treaty mandates the US to come to Manila’s aid if it is attacked by any other state, an obligation that the Philippines is also required to carry and undertake for Washington if it goes into war.

At least 220 Chinese maritime militia vessels have been spotted moored at the Julian Felipe Reef, located near Balabac, Palawan, on March 7, alerting Filipino defense and security officials, with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana demanding their pullout. The Chinese embassy berated Lorenzana, repeating the claim that these are fishing boats, and the area is part of traditional fishing areas.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin on Monday issued a statement berating Chinese officials who took issue with Lorenzana, and said that, as the Julian Felipe Reef lies well within the Philipppine EEZ, “tradition yields to law”—in this case, only the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) upholding countries’ rights to their EEZ, and the 2016 arbitral ruling voiding China’s excessive claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Since the March 7 sighting, most of the ships have left the reef, but several were spotted in other features in the WPS, thus raising more concern from the Philippines and its allies—the US, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom.

At least 44 Chinese ships have remained berthed at the reef based on the latest Philippine military patrol, which Chinese forces tried to shoo away from the area.

Andolong said Manila remains in talks with the US on the matter of mutual defense, and both parties are committed to undertake their obligations under the MDT, so that neither stands alone in “these issues involving the two states’ inherent right of self-defense, individually and collectively.”

Andolong said the DND is keeping all of its options open in managing the developing situation in the WPS, including leveraging its partnerships with other countries like the US.

Price said the US shares the concerns of the Philippines and its allies, while prodding Beijing to heed the UN Arbitral Tribunal ruling.

“We have reiterated our strong support for the Philippines and we have called on the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to abide by the 2016 arbitral tribunal award under the Law of the Sea Convention, which is final and legally binding on all parties,” the US State Department spokesman said.

Image credits: ©2021 Maxar Technologies via AP

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