US Secretary of State to Philippines: We will defend your disputed waters

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Secretary of State
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets President Duterte today.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US would back the Philippines should there be any “armed attack” on the South China Sea.

Pompeo said today (Friday, March 1) that any such attack would “trigger mutual defence obligations” under the US-Philippine mutual defence treaty.

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“As South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on the Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defence obligations under Article IV of our mutual defence treaty,” he said during a press conference at the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Pasay City.

The Secretary of State also highlighted how China’s island building and military activities in the disputed waters were a threat to the Philippines.

“As an island nation, the Philippines depends on free and unobstructed access to the seas, China’s island building and military building in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security as well as economic livelihood as well as that of US,” he said.

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“Our commitments under that treaty [1951 Mutual Defense Treaty] are clear, our obligations are real, the South China Sea is certainly part of an important body of water for freedom of navigation.”

Despite these assurances, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is still pushing for a review of the treaty.

“That is a revelation. I still want a review,” he told The Inquirer today.

As we reported in December, Lorenzana called for a review of the decades-old treaty and had questioned whether it remained relevant. He suggested that the US interpretation only covered the “metropolitan” Philippines and not the nation’s claims in the South China Sea.

“We still want a review to get all ambiguities cleared and put in paper as part of the treaty,” he said.

He also called for clarification about whether the treaty covered situations beyond an outright “attack”.

“We were not attacked, they just seized islands. Where does that fall? Where will that fall under? Those are the ambiguities,” he said.

However, also speaking today, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said he did not see any need for a review of the treaty.

“My own view is no,” he said. “I believe in the old theory deterrence… in vagueness lie the best deterrence.”

He also said the government was “assured” and “confident” about the guarantees the US has given in relation to the protection of Philippine interests in the South China Sea.

“We are very assured, we are very confident that the United States, as in the words of Secretary Pompeo and the words of President Trump to our President, ‘We have your back’,” he said. 

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