POLITICS

Blinken underscores ‘ironclad’ support for the Philippines as it clashes with China in disputed sea

Mar 18, 2024, 10:03 PM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored Washington’s “ironclad commitment” Tuesday to help defend the Philippines in case of an armed attack against its forces after clashes between Chinese and Filipino coast guards in the disputed South China Sea recently turned more hostile.

Blinken, the latest high-level official to visit the United States treaty ally, met his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo on Tuesday before separately meeting President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila.

President Joe Biden will host Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in a White House summit in April. The three are likely to discuss growing concerns over increasingly aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear program.

“We stand with the Philippines and stand by our ironclad defense commitments, including under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Blinken said in a news conference with Manalo.

“We have a shared concern about the PRC’s actions that threaten our common vision for a free, open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea and in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” Blinken said, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China. He cited “repeated violations of international law and the rights of the Philippines: water cannons, blocking maneuvers, close shadowing other dangerous operations.”

The Chinese coast guard blocked and used water cannons against Philippine vessels in a confrontation two weeks ago that slightly injured a Filipino admiral and four of his sailors near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. The March 5 faceoff in the high seas also caused two minor collisions between Chinese and Philippine vessels and prompted Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs to summon China’s deputy ambassador to convey a protest against the Chinese coast guard’s actions, which the Philippines said were unacceptable.

The Chinese coast guard said then that “it took control measures in accordance with the law against Philippine ships that illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to Ren’ai Reef,” the name Beijing uses for Second Thomas Shoal.

The Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied by a small Philippine navy contingent but surrounded by Chinese coast guard ships and other allied vessels, was the site of several tense skirmishes between Chinese and Philippine coast guard ships in the past year. But Filipino officials said the confrontation earlier this month was particularly serious because of the injuries sustained by its navy personnel and damage to their vessel.

Blinken renewed a warning Tuesday that the U.S. is obligated under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the Philippines if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under an armed attack anywhere in the South China Sea.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian rejected Blinken’s comments on Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

“The U.S. is not a party to the South China Sea issue and has no right to intervene in maritime issues between China and the Philippines,” Lin said. “China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly defend its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Both Blinken and Manalo described their countries’ treaty alliance as being on “hyper-drive,” but acknowledged that more could be done. They said efforts to shore up defense ties were not aimed against any country.

Beijing has repeatedly said that Marcos’ decision to allow the expansion of American military presence in the Philippines under a 2014 defense pact could undermine the security of China and the region.

U.S. and Philippine forces plan to hold their largest annual combat exercises in April in the Philippines. The area would include a northern region just a sea away from Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.

“We reaffirmed our shared view that a strong and capable Philippines would make a formidable ally for the United States,” Manalo said.

Blinken said that “the alliance has never been stronger, but we not only have to sustain that, we have to continue to accelerate the momentum.”

Outside the presidential palace in Manila, dozens of left-wing activists tore a mock U.S. flag in a noisy rally Tuesday to oppose Blinken’s visit and Washington’s involvement in the long-simmering territorial disputes.

Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the resource-rich and busy waterway, a key global trade route.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea. In the past decade, China has turned barren reefs into seven islands that now serve as missile-protected island bases — including three with runways — that have bolstered its capability to fortify its territorial claims and patrols.

In response, Washington has been strengthening an arc of military alliances and security ties in the Indo-Pacific, including with the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries at odds with China in the disputed sea.

After China effectively seized another disputed atoll — the Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines — in 2012, Manila brought its disputes with Beijing to international arbitration and largely won. China, however, rejected the 2016 ruling of the United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated its expansive claims on historical grounds, and continues to defy the decision.

___

Associated Press journalists Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila in Manila, the Philippines, and Christopher Bodeen in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

Politics

Associated Press

Milei’s radical overhaul advances in Argentina’s Senate as protesters clash with police

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina’s Senate began what’s likely to be an all-night voting marathon on the details of President Javier Milei ‘s sweeping proposals to slash spending and boost his own powers early Thursday, shortly after giving the plan overall approval in a narrow vote as thousands of protesters clashed with police outside. […]

25 minutes ago

Associated Press

G7 summit opens with deal to use Russian assets for Ukraine as EU’s traditional powers recalibrate

BARI, Italy (AP) — A Group of Seven summit is opening Thursday with agreement on a U.S. proposal to back a $50 billion loan to Ukraine using frozen Russian assets as collateral, giving Kyiv a strong show of support even as Europe’s political chessboard shifts to the right. Diplomats confirmed that an agreement had been […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Arizona man sold firearms to undercover FBI agent for mass shooting, indictment says

PHOENIX (AP) — A firearms dealer in Arizona sold weapons to an undercover federal agent he believed would help him carry out his plan for a mass shooting targeting minorities, an attack that he hoped would “incite a race war,” according to a federal grand jury indictment. Mark Adams Prieto was indicted Tuesday by the […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Neil Goldschmidt, former Oregon governor who confessed to sex with a minor in the 1970s, has died

Neil Goldschmidt, a former Oregon governor whose confession that he had sex with a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s blackened what had been a nearly sterling reputation, has died. He was 83. Goldschmidt died at his Portland home on Wednesday, The Oregonian reported, according to family members. The newspaper said the reported cause was heart […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Man charged with robbing a California bank was released from prison a day earlier, prosecutors say

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A man charged with taking three people hostage while robbing a Southern California bank last month had been released from prison a day earlier, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. The 53-year-old was indicted on robbery charges after investigators said he claimed to have a gun, jumped over the teller counter and […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Woman with gun taken into custody after standoff at FBI building in Seattle, authorities say

SEATTLE (AP) — A woman armed with a handgun was taken into custody after an hourlong standoff at the FBI building in Seattle on Wednesday, authorities said. The woman walked into a publicly accessible area where people have to wait to be buzzed into the lobby, according to FBI spokesperson Steve Bernd. She pointed the […]

7 hours ago

Blinken underscores ‘ironclad’ support for the Philippines as it clashes with China in disputed sea