THE United States is doubling down on its support for the Philippines amid the presence of Chinese ships at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea.
“We have reiterated our strong support for the Philippines and we have called on the PRC to abide by the 2016 arbitral tribunal award under the Law of the Sea Convention, which is final and legally binding on all parties,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday, April 7.
According to him, the U.S. “shares” Manila’s concerns over the Chinese vessels sighted on the contested waterway.
“We share the concerns of our Philippine allies regarding the continued reported massing of PRC maritime militia near the Whitsun Reef,” said Price.
Price also maintained that the U.S. will defend the Philippines in the event an “armed attack” happens.
“As we have stated before, an armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.
Around 220 vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel were sighted at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7, according to a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) report.
On March 22, the Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed that around 183 Chinese vessels were spotted by a Philippine Air Force aircraft in the area.
The Philippine Department of National Defense (DND), for its part, welcomed the U.S.’ remarks.
“The U.S. admonition to China against the use of force on Philippine public vessels and aircraft, which are performing their constitutional mandate to protect and defend Philippine rights in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, is an additional affirmation of the long-standing partnership between our two countries,” said Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong.
He also said that the two countries are committed to “undertake” their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“Both parties are committed to undertake their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty so that neither stands alone in these issues involving the two states’ inherent right of self-defense, individually and collectively,” Andolong said.
Daily diplomatic protests
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has vowed to file a diplomatic protest against China “everyday” until the Chinese vessels are gone in Philippine waters.
“Firing another diplomatic protest. Everyday till the last one’s gone like it should be by now if it is really fishing,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a tweet on Wednesday.
The agency first filed a diplomatic protest on March 21, but the ships remained in the West Philippine Sea.
Previously, the Chinese Embassy denied that the vessels spotted at Julian Felipe Reef were operated by China’s maritime militia. It said they were fishing vessels “seeking shelter” near the reef due to rough sea conditions.
As of March 29, 44 Chinese vessels remain at the Julian Felipe Reef.