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US vows to help Manila in case of war vs China

THE US under President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has affirmed its commitment to help the Philippines in case its naval ships are attacked by China amid growing tensions in the South China Sea.

The US would help its former colony and other claimant countries stand up against Chinese aggression in the disputed waterway, Antony J. Blinken, whom the US Senate confirmed as secretary of state this week, told Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.  during a call on Thursday.

“Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty for the security of both nations, and its clear application to armed attacks against the Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea,” US Department of State spokesman Edward Price said in an e-mailed statement.

He also said the US rejects China’s maritime claims in the major waterway. China claims more than 80% of the sea based on a nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map.

Philippine Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, who heads the defense committee, said the Philippines should consider keeping the defense pact in light of the US position.

“The Mutual Defense Treaty is one yet untapped weapon in our arsenal,” he tweeted. “I certainly hope we do not draw that weapon. Meantime, we might as well keep it there.”

Mr. Blinken, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, joined the State Department in 1993. He later took posts in the Clinton White House and on the staff of the US Senate foreign relations committee, where he worked closely with Mr. Biden, then a senator from Delaware.

The Philippines this week filed a diplomatic protest against China after it passed a law allowing its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels in the South China Sea.

While enacting law is a sovereign prerogative, China’s latest law is a verbal threat of war to any country that defies it, Mr. Locsin tweeted on Wednesday.

The presidential palace Malacañang on Thursday welcomed the country’s diplomatic protest filed against China over a newly passed law that allows its maritime forces to resort to violent means against foreign vessels.

Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. on Wednesday filed a diplomatic protest against the said law, saying it is “verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law.”

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque, Jr. said the protest proves that the Philippines is committed to domestic and international laws.

“This will prove that the Philippines is fully committed to the rule of law and will assert all its rights available under existing principles of international law to defend its interests,” he said in a televised press briefing.

Mr. Roque remained firm that Beijing must follow obligations under the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, which only permits the use of force in “well-defined exceptions” pending the authorization of the UN Security Council.

The new China law allows the Chinese Coast Guard to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”

The country will remain “friendly” to Beijing even after the foreign superpower has allowed its maritime forces to fire on foreign vessels, Mr. Roque said. “Our independent foreign policies intend to be friendly with anyone and enemy to no one, but we will protect our national interest.”

Mr. Roque said the diplomatic protest won’t affect the country’s procurement of coronavirus vaccines from China.

The Philippine government has already sealed deals with China’s Sinovac BioTech Ltd. for 25 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.The Chinese government also donated 500,000 vaccine doses to the country.

“That has no effect on vaccine procurement because it is a different issue. A vaccine is actually a humanitarian act of the entire planet earth in response to a humanitarian disaster,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, known for his strong ties with China, had long shown preference for the vaccines developed by the Chinese drug maker and Russia’s Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Malacañang Palace on Monday said the use of force is prohibited under international law. States may use force in self-defense or when authorized by the United Nations Security Council, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing.

Any laws passed by nations must be according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China had agreed to, he added.

Mr. Roque said President Rodrigo R. Duterte want claimants to disputed areas in the South China Sea to finish a proposed code of conduct and adhere to it to ease tensions.

Mr. Locsin on Monday urged “self-restraint” after opposition Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the Chinese law was a negative development.

“It’s none of our business,” he tweeted then. “It is China’s business what laws it passes, so please, a little self-restraint.”

“I devised a visa rubber stamp that stamps most of the South China Sea and parts of North Borneo as our national territory and no one has complained,” Mr. Locsin had said.

Ms. Baraquel noted that while China peddles coronavirus vaccines as a global public good, it trashes the remaining peace in the disputed waterway.

The National People’s Congress standing committee of China passed the Coast Guard Law that will allow its coast guard to use “all necessary means” against foreign vessels that threaten them, according to the South China Morning Post.

Ms. Baraquel said the measure would escalate tensions at sea. She urged the Philippine military to plan a strategy should there be threats to the Philippines.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 favored the Philippines in a lawsuit that rejected China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea. China has rejected the ruling but continues to negotiate with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations to come up with a code of conduct.

China has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and setting up installations including several runways.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs department last year filed several diplomatic protests against China over a naval weapon-pointing incident and an attempt to set up two new districts within Philippine territory in the South China Sea.

Ms. Baraquel last week said China’s vaccine diplomacy might be in exchange for the Philippines’ interest in the South China Sea.

Three American aircraft carriers patroled the Indo-Pacific waters for the first time in nearly three years in June, a massive show of naval force in a region roiled by spiking tensions between the US and China.

The patrol of the three warships, accompanied by Navy cruisers, destroyers, fighter jets and other aircraft came as the US escalated criticism of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, its moves to impose greater control over Hong Kong and its island-building activities in the waterway.  Charmaine A. Tadalan

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