(EFE).- United States Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday in Manila that she reinforced the historic military alliance between her country and the Philippines, adding that Washington would defend the country in the South China Sea, where it’s in conflict with Beijing over the sovereignty of several islands and atolls.
“We stand with you in upholding international rules and norms as they pertain to the South China Sea. An armed attack against the Armed Forces of the Philippines, public vessels or aircraft would invoke US mutual defense,” Harris said during her meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos.
Marcos said the situation in the South China Sea “is changing rapidly,” adding that his country and the US “must continue to progress and strengthen” their relationship to “respond adequately to these events,” according to local network ABS-CBN.
Harris, who arrived in the archipelago Sunday, plans to travel Tuesday to the island of Palawan, in the southwest of the country by the South China Sea – to which Manila refers to the West Philippine Sea – where she will meet the Coast Guard team and local fishermen’s associations.
Harris’ visit coincides with a new altercation between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards, which occurred Sunday when a Philippine ship tried to pick up an unidentified object near Pag-asa Island, an islet occupied by the Philippines and located about 570 kilometers from the coast of Western Palawan.
When the Filipino crew had already begun to collect the object, an inflatable boat deployed by a Chinese coast guard ship rushed in and seized it, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a Monday statement.
The Philippine president held a bilateral meeting in Bangkok – on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, where Harris also participated – with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, where leaders discussed the territorial conflict.
China said both parties should limit themselves to “friendly consultations” and “manage differences and disputes properly,” while the Philippines is committed to the conclusion of the binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
In addition to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei claim parts of this strategic sea – through which 30 percent of global trade circulates and which is home to 12 percent of the world’s fishing grounds, as well as oil and gas deposits – although China attributes the sovereignty of those waters almost in its entirety.
At the moment, the Philippines is the only country that has a ruling that supports its claims, since the Permanent Court of Arbitration of The Hague attributed in 2016 the ownership of several territories of the South China Sea, the Scarborough atoll and part of the Spratly Archipelago, where China has built military bases.
China, which claims historical rights over the area, never recognized the ruling court and continues its military and fishing activities within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. EFE
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