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Biden: US-PH pact ‘ironclad’

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But Beijing rips Washington meddling in WPS dispute with Manila

US President Joe Biden said his country’s defense commitment to the Philippines is “ironclad” after dangerous maneuvers by Chinese vessels caused collisions with Filipino boats in the West Philippine Sea on Oct. 22.

“Any attack on Filipino aircraft, vessels, or armed forces will invoke our mutual defense treaty with the Philippines,” Biden told reporters at a press conference in Washington.

“Just this past week, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) vessels acted dangerously and unlawfully as our Philippine friends conducted a routine resupply mission within their own—their own exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea,” he said.

“I want to be clear—I want to be very  clear: The United States’ defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad. The United States’ defense agreement to the Philippines is ironclad,” he added.

Later, Biden and visiting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called out China for its “dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia” in the South China Sea.

Both leaders expressed concern over the Oct. 22 collision between a Chinese Coast Guard vessel and a Filipino boat heading to resupply troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal.

But China on Thursday flayed the United States for involving itself in the territorial dispute between Beijing and Manila, saying the US has no right to get involved in the problem between the two Asian countries.

“The US is not a party to the South China Sea issue, it has no right to get involved in a problem between China and the Philippines,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said.

“The US promise of defending the Philippines must not hurt China’s sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea, and it also must not enable and encourage the illegal claims of the Philippines,” she said in a briefing.

In a joint statement, Biden and Albanese said the US and Australia are concerned about China’s “excessive maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law” as well as “unilateral actions” that may raise tensions in the region.

“We strongly oppose destabilizing actions in the South China Sea, such as unsafe encounters at sea and in the air, the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, including interfering with routine Philippines maritime operations around Second Thomas Shoal, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation,” the statement read.

Both leaders reaffirmed support for the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award, describing it as “final and legally binding” on both China and the Philippines.

“We resolve to work with partners to support regional maritime security and uphold international law,” the leaders said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro took exception to China’s claim that the Philippines is acting as a puppet of the United States by standing up for its rights in the WPS.

“The favorite Chinese narrative is that this is all a play of the United States and that we are just marionettes or puppets or lapdogs of the Americans following their playbook,” Teodoro said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He added that this Chinese allegation is “very insulting” to all Filipinos as it assumes that the country has no ability to think and stand up for its rights.

Earlier, the Defense chief said the Philippines is not looking for conflict with China but is merely protecting its maritime territories from continued Chinese encroachment.

He added that protecting the country’s territory is accepted under international law.

Teodoro noted that China’s expansive territorial claims that encroach on the West Philippine Sea and the country’s other territories are contrary to the “norms ng international law”.

He said the government is taking China’s misinformation campaign seriously.

On Thursday, Danish Ambassador to Manila Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin paid a courtesy call to Teodoro to discuss possible cooperation on cyber defense and information technology.

A statement released by the Defense Department said the Philippines was interested in “countering disinformation and addressing threats in the information ecosystem.”

Teodoro thanked the Danish envoy for supporting Manila’s stand on the Oct. 22 incidents.

Mellbin said defense cooperation with the Philippines is among his priorities, as he invited the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard for a study visit in Copenhagen, to exchange insights on the law of the sea and provide inputs on Denmark’s naval, coastal, and marine defenses, technologies, and doctrines.

On Wednesday, the US aircraft carrier Ronald Raegan conducted flight operations off eastern Luzon.

“The visit of the Reagan is a symbol of the partnership and the alliance that we have with the Philippines,” the US Embassy in the Philippines said.

Before heading to Philippine waters, the USS Ronald Reagan conducted flight operations in the South China Sea over the weekend, a move Beijing criticized as an infringement upon China’s sovereignty.

Beijing also called the US a “troublemaker” in the region.

The USS Ronald Reagan is scheduled for a port visit in Manila in the coming days. Part of the visit is for rest and recreation of its troops, especially for many Filipino-Americans hoping to visit family and friends.

Some 5,000 sailors, including 150 with Filipino heritage, keep the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier running. AFP with Vince Lopez and Rey E. Requejo


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