US warns it will defend ally if China violates sea ruling

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has renewed a call for China to comply with a 2016 arbitration award that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea. and warned that Washington is obligated to defend treaty ally Philippines if its forces, ships or aircraft are attacked in disputed waters.

Blinken’s statement, released by the US Embassy in Manila on Tuesday, was issued on the sixth anniversary of the 2016 decision by an arbitral tribunal set up in The Hague under the United Nations Convention Law of the Sea after the Philippine government filed a complaint in 2013 against China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed sea.

China did not participate in the arbitration, dismissed its decision as a sham and continues to defy it, embroiling it in territorial disputes with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian claimant states in recent years. .

“We again call on the PRC to uphold its obligations under international law and cease its provocative behavior,” Blinken said, using the acronym for China’s official name.

“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, government vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke the mutual defense commitments of the United States” under the 1951 United States-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty , Blinken said.

Besides China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have had overlapping claims to the busy waterway, which is said to be rich in undersea gas and oil deposits and where around $5 trillion of trade and goods are shipped through each year.

The Flashpoint region has become a key front in the US-China rivalry.

Washington does not claim the disputed waters, but has deployed its Navy ships and jet planes to patrol the waterway for decades and says freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed region is in the national interest of the United States. This drew angry reactions from China, which accused the United States of interfering in a purely Asian dispute and warned it to stay away.

Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo said on Tuesday that the arbitration ruling would be a pillar of the new administration’s policy and actions in the disputed region and dismissed attempts to undermine the “incontrovertible” ruling.

“These conclusions are no longer within the reach of denial and refutation and are conclusive because indisputable. Pricing is final,” Manalo said in a statement.

“We strongly reject attempts to undermine…even erase it from law, from history and from our collective memories,” said Manalo, who did not name China but clearly alluded to it.

China would likely disapprove of Manalo’s declared political stance for the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory.

Marcos Jr.’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, put the arbitration decision on the back burner for years after taking office in 2016 and maintained close ties to Chinese President Xi Jinping while often criticizing US security policies. .

In 2019, Duterte said he finally asked Xi at a meeting in Beijing to comply with the decision, but the Chinese leader told him emphatically, “We won’t budge.”

Marcos Jr. upheld the arbitration decision and said he would not allow even a “square millimeter” of Philippine waters to be trampled.

But in an interview with the DZRH radio network in January before he won the presidency, Marcos Jr. said that since China refused to recognize the decision, it will not help settle differences with Beijing, ” therefore this option is not available to us”.

Marcos Jr. said then that Duterte’s policy of diplomatic engagement with China was “really our only option.”

He faced calls on Tuesday asking China to comply with the arbitration award and reverse Duterte’s soft approach that undermined Philippine sovereignty in the disputed sea.

Dozens of left-wing activists and workers protested outside the Chinese consulate in Manila’s Makati financial district on Tuesday, calling on Beijing to respect the arbitration decision and for Marcos Jr. to defend the territory and sovereign rights of the country in the South China Sea.

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Associated Press reporters Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.

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