Harris confirms ‘unwavering’ US defense commitment to Philippines

MANILA—Washington has pledged to defend its oldest ally, the Philippines, if it comes under attack in the South China Sea, reaffirming America’s “unwavering” commitment to its former colonies.

Her comments followed a meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who welcomed Harris to the Philippine Presidential Palace for the first time.

Marcos said strong ties between the two countries became all the more important given what he called the “upheaval” in the region.

“I don’t see a future for the Philippines that doesn’t include the United States,” said Marcos, the son of a late tycoon whose asylum was helped by Washington during the 1986 “people power” riots.

Harris’ visit is largely seen as Washington’s effort to revive ties with its Asian ally Manila, which is central to US efforts to counter increasingly aggressive Chinese policies toward Taiwan. there is

“We stand by you to uphold international rules and norms related to the South China Sea,” Harris told Marcos.

“An armed attack on Philippine forces, ships, or aircraft in the South China Sea would evoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”

Her three-day trip includes a stop in Palawan, an island at the edge of the South China Sea, to meet a Coast Guard officer, tour one of their ships, and speak about “principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom of navigation.” includes. ‘ said a senior U.S. official.

Ahead of Harris’s visit, the Philippine military commander, the highest-level visit to the Philippines by a senior Biden administration official, said a Chinese Coast Guard ship had cut a rope and floated a floating object being towed in the South China Sea. He accused them of forcibly collecting them. it to the boat.

The commander said the incident, one of nine features occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands, occurred in the waters of Titu Island, the country’s most important outpost in the South China Sea.

In Beijing, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that force had been used when asked about the incident.

At a regular briefing, Mao Ning said the object was debris from the payload fairing of a Chinese-launched rocket, or the casing that protects the spacecraft’s nosecone.

“People from the Philippines were the first to raise and tow the floating object. After the two sides had amicable negotiations at the scene, the Philippines handed over the floating object to us,” Mao added.

In a statement, the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department said it was investigating the incident thoroughly and awaiting detailed reports from maritime law enforcement agencies.

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, but a 2016 ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague found Beijing’s claims to be without legal basis, handing Manila a victory.

The Philippines has been unable to enforce the ruling and has since filed hundreds of protests over aggression and harassment by the Chinese Coast Guard and its huge fishing fleet.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Washington and the Philippines are moving forward with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that stemmed from the Obama administration, although it stalled under former President Rodrigo Duterte.

EDCA allows the United States to maintain a military presence through a mutually agreed rotation of ships and aircraft for humanitarian and coast guard operations at bases in the Philippines, but maintain a permanent presence you can’t.