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US issues 'ironclad' warning to China as fears of armed attack on Philippines intensify


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reassured the Philippines of Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to defend it in case of an armed attack, amid escalating tensions with China in the disputed South China Sea.

Blinken met with Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila on Tuesday, ahead of a White House summit with Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in April.

The three leaders are expected to discuss growing concerns over China’s aggressive 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 at 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.

On Tuesday, Blinken refreshed a warning that according to a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the U. S. is obligated to protect the Philippines if Filipino forces or vehicles face an armed attack anywhere in the South China Sea.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian dismissed Blinken’s remarks about 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 stated. “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 admitted that more could be done. They clarified that efforts to strengthen defence ties were not targeted against any country.

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

U. S. and Philippine forces plan to conduct 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 declared.

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

Dozens of left-wing activists staged a noisy protest outside the presidential palace in Manila, tearing up a mock U. S.

flag to show their opposition to Blinken’s visit and Washington’s involvement in territorial disputes.

The South China Sea is a resource-rich and busy waterway that is claimed by several countries including China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea and has transformed barren reefs into seven islands that now serve as missile-protected bases, three of which have runways. This has strengthened its ability to enforce its territorial claims and patrols.

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

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

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