THREE United States Republican senators urged President Biden to increase support to the Philippines following two incidents of collision between Philippines and China vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
This came a day after Biden warned China against making “dangerous and unlawful” maneuvers in the South China Sea (SCS), stressing that it has an “iron-clad” commitment to help the Philippines when attacked in the disputed territory.
GOP Senators Roger Wicker (Mississippi), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Jim Risch (Idaho) wrote a letter to Biden, saying China is “testing the credibility” of Biden’s commitments.
“Your administration has repeatedly stated that an attack on Philippine public vessels, aircraft and armed forces—including those of its Coast Guard in the South China Sea—would invoke the US mutual defense commitments…China’s actions are testing the credibility and value of these commitments, and we must respond with strength,” the senators wrote.
Defense chiefs reaffirm MDT vow
Meanwhile, the Philippines and US defense establishments reiterated their commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in wake of the October 22 incidents wherein two Filipino ships on a routine resupply mission were deliberately hit and damaged by aggressively maneuvering Chinese ships.
“The Secretaries reaffirmed that the MDT extends to both countries’ public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces—to include the Coast Guard—anywhere in the Pacific to include the South China Sea (SCS),” the joint statement read.
This took place following a telephone conference between Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. and US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Friday.
“Secretary Austin reinforced US support for the Philippines following the PRC [People’s Republic of China] Coast Guard and maritime militia’s dangerous obstruction of a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal [Ayungin Shoal] on October 22,” the Philippine and US joint statement read.
The two also discussed China’s “dangerous and unlawful maneuvers that caused collisions with Philippine resupply and Coast Guard ships” and put the safety of Filipino crew members and their vessels at risk.
The senators listed a number of harassment the Chinese Coast Guard and its maritime militia have been consistently doing against Philippine naval assets in the WPS since August 2023.
These incidents include deploying water cannons and issuing threats to intercept supply vessels that provide food and other provisions for Filipino soldiers stationed at BRP Sierra Madre atop Ayungin Shoal.
Ayungin Shoal is a submerged reef, located 121 nautical miles west of Palawan island and inside the Philippine exclusive economic zone. A contingent of Philippine Marine soldiers are deployed there, guarding the 50-year old BRP Sierra Madre, which was intentionally grounded to prevent China from occupying it.
“China is on the verge of willfully triggering a humanitarian crisis by blocking the resupply of the BRP Sierra Madre. Its actions will eventually starve Filipino sailors on the vessel. China’s main purpose, of course, is to force the Philippines to abandon Second Thomas Shoal and take de facto control of this territorial feature,” the lawmakers said.
They added: “Doing so would expand further its unlawful maritime claims—just as Beijing did with Scarborough Shoal over a decade ago. Each new claim of maritime sovereignty gives China another platform to hold allied territory [and US military assets]at greater risk.”
According to Fox News, the senators urged President Biden to provide a “comprehensive overview of strategies to bolster the Philippine mission concerning the grounded sentinel ship BRP Sierra Madre.”
If the Biden administration fails to take action, “potentially,” China would be emboldened further to make “adverse actions,” they argued.
Last Wednesday, a bipartisan group from the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee also welcomed plans by the Biden administration for the US to increase patrols with the Philippines and other allies in the disputed territory.
Teodoro and Austin also committed to redouble efforts to strengthen bilateral coordination, interoperability, and support for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Also, the US defense chief reiterated that his commitment to the Philippines and the Indo-Pacific is ironclad.
“The Secretaries commended recent bilateral military cooperation, including the bilateral sail last month off the coast of Palawan, and committed to increase the pace and scope of US-Philippines engagements. The Secretaries look forward to meeting in person in Jakarta on the margins of the upcoming Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting [ADMM]-Plus,” the joint statement added.