‘Are you with us or are you not?’
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said that he recently asked the US ambassador whether Washington would support the Philippines in case of a possible confrontation with China in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte suggested in a business forum in Davao City that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States did not automatically oblige Washington to immediately help if Manila got into a confrontation with Beijing over their territorial dispute.
“Are you with us or are you not with us?” he said he asked US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.
He said Goldberg replied, “Only if you are attacked.”
In Washington, the US state department said it would not comment on the details of diplomatic conversations or on the possibility of the United States coming to the defense of the Philippines in the South China Sea.
But it said the US-Philippine alliance was “ironclad” and the United States would stand by its treaty commitments.
“President Obama has been clear that we will stand by our commitments to the Philippines, as we do any mutual defense treaty ally,” said Anna Richey-Allen, spokesperson for the department’s East Asian and Pacific affairs bureau.
“Our dependability and reliability as an ally has been established over decades. Beyond that, we won’t comment on hypotheticals,” she said.
The treaty says each country will “act to meet the common dangers” if one is attacked.
Filipino officials have asked in the past whether the United States would help if the Philippines gets into a confrontation with China over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The United States takes no sides in the long-unresolved territorial disputes. Goldberg has not commented publicly on his meeting with Duterte.
Duterte said that in his meeting with Goldberg, he told the ambassador that he opposed going to war over the territorial dispute.
He said he stressed that Panatag Shoal, which China seized in 2012 after a two-month standoff with the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard, is “very near” Manila.
PH arbitration case
It was the loss of Panatag Shoal, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, that compelled the Philippines to challenge China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea in the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013.
The court is expected to issue a decision within the coming weeks.
China has said it will not abide by the court’s decision.
Duterte said that after the ruling, the Philippine government would send a team to China “not to talk about war or irritations,” but “about peace and how [China] can help us.”
He said his administration would “promote peace in my country and see to it that the people are comfortable.”
Duterte said that before he ran for President, Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing told him that China would build a railroad in the Philippines and turn it over to the government.
He did not say, however, where in the Philippines the railroad would be built. With a report from AP
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