PHL and US defense chiefs hit China’s maritime ‘incursion’ in Pagasa Island


The Philippines and the United States have jointly condemned China’s incursion into the waters of Pagasa Island in Palawan early this month, which intimidated Filipino fishermen and disrupted their activities in the area.

The censure of China’s “gray zone” operations was made by Department of National Defense Officer-in-Charge Carlito Galvez Jr. and US Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III during a phone conversation on Monday night, Manila time.

The call, initiated by Austin, happened hours after Manila and Washington jumpstarted the rehabilitation of Basa Air Base’s runway, one of the military projects identified under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“The two leaders condemned the PRC’s gray-zone activities, which interfere with the livelihoods of local Philippine communities and the rights of other claimant states that seek to operate lawfully in the South China Sea consistent with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling,” a readout of the phone conversation provided by Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

Early this month, China massed 42 maritime militia vessels that were accompanied by a warship and a coast guard vessel within the waters of Pagasa Island. While most of the vessels disappeared after their presence was reported by the Philippine Coast Guard, the Chinese warship and the China Coast Guard vessel loitered around the maritime waters.

The call between Austin and Galvez was made to discuss ongoing efforts that strengthen the two countries’ alliance.

“Secretary Austin underscored the United States’ unwavering alliance commitment with the Philippines and reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to Philippine Armed Forces, aircraft, and public vessels, including those of its Coast Guard, anywhere in the South China Sea,” Ryder said.

The Pentagon official noted that the swarming of vessels “falls on the heels of a dangerous incident last month, in which the China Coast Guard directed a military-grade laser beam against a Philippine vessel operating lawfully around Second Thomas Shoal, temporarily blinding some of the crew.”

During the discussions, the two defense leaders also looked forward to the holding of the biggest Balikatan military exercise that will be joined by 17,000 Filipino and American troops.

“They also discussed plans to conduct combined maritime activities in the South China Sea and agreed to review the full range of US-Philippine maritime cooperation during the upcoming 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue,” Ryder said.

Meanwhile, United Kingdom Ambassador to the Philippines Laure Beaufils visited Camp Aguinaldo on Tuesday and conferred with the Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Arthur Cordura on various issues.

Among the matters discussed by Beaufils and Cordura were regional stability and international maritime law, according to military public affairs office chief Col. Jorry Baclor.

“They also stressed the importance of continued security and defense cooperation and welcomed possible future security engagements between the Philippines and the UK. They also discussed and supported each other’s initiatives to maintain stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region against the backdrop of rules-based order and international law,” Baclor said.

Image credits: AP/Bullit Marquez