WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- The U.S. renewed its warning that it will defend the Philippines if it comes under attack in the disputed South China Sea.
- The statement comes after reports that China’s Coast Guard used military-grade laser devices to temporarily blind the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship.
- The Philippines and the U.S. will carry out joint military drills this year.
The United States renewed its vow to defend the Philippines if it comes under attack in the disputed South China Sea. The U.S. sided with the Philippines after its patrol vessel was hit with a military-grade laser by a Chinese coast guard ship. The laser reportedly blinded some of the crew briefly.
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said China’s “dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law and undermines the rules-based international order.”
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies,” Price added.
Under a 1951 treaty, an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the coast guard in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitment. The 1951 treaty compels the allies to help defend one another when attacked.
The Philippines and the U.S. will hold joint military drills this year, the biggest since 2015.
Philippine officials said that on Feb. 6, the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Malapascua was on its way to a resupply mission to Filipino forces at Second Thomas Shoal when the Chinese coast guard ship beamed high-grade lasers to block the Philippine boat.
China claims sovereignty over “virtually all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.”
China’s navy has also been accused of using military-grade lasers against Australian military aircraft on patrol in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin insisted that the Philippine coast guard vessel entered into Chinese waters without permission. He defended the Chinese coast guard vessels’ response, saying it was done “professionally and with restraint at the site in accordance with China’s law and international law.”
Price said the Chinese coast guard’s “provocative and unsafe” conduct interfered with the Philippines’ “lawful operations” in and around Second Thomas Shoal.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China in July that the U.S. was obligated to defend the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Price reiterated on Monday that the “legally binding decision” underscored that China “has no lawful maritime claims to the Second Thomas Shoal” but China has not accepted the ruling.
Last year, the Philippines filed nearly 200 diplomatic protests against China’s aggressive actions in the contested waters.
The U.S. announced early this month that it made an agreement with the Philippines to expand America’s military presence in the country. The Philippines, under a new government, will allow the U.S. to access four more military bases around the South China Sea as it seeks to counter China’s growing aggression in the region.
Source: Associated Press