Lorenzana: Sino envoy told me ‘pls don’t touch’ PH-US treaty
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday said that the former Chinese ambassador to Manila tried to discourage revisions in the 1951 Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
“While the US welcomes the idea of revisiting the MDT, an outside party does not,” Lorenzana said during a virtual conference of the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute to commemorate the 75th year of Philippine-US diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the defense treaty.
“When I first broached the idea of revisiting the MDT the former Chinese ambassador came to me and said: ‘Please do not touch the MDT. Leave it as it is,’” Lorenzana said.
He told Reuters news agency that the ambassador’s statement in 2018 “did surprise me.”
“I asked him why? He said any attempt to revise the MDT would be construed by the Chinese government as act to contain the rise of China,” Lorenzana said.
Asked how he responded, Lorenzana told Reuters: “I just looked at him and smiled.”
Cold War relic
Lorenzana did not say whether he had reported the conversation with the Chinese ambassador, who at the time was Zhao Jianhua, to President Duterte or to Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
Zhao was posted in Manila from February 2014 to December 2019.
In December 2018, Lorenzana said he wanted a review of the treaty because it may no longer be relevant as it was signed when there was “this raging Cold War.”
The defense chief said then that the review of the treaty was meant to determine whether there was a need to “maintain it, strengthen it or scrap it.”
He earlier said a review was timely amid concerns about hostile encounters between the United States and China in the West Philippine Sea where Beijing and Manila have conflicting maritime claims not covered by the treaty. He wanted the United States to make a definitive stand on whether it will support the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the event of a confrontation with other claimants.
During a visit by Locsin to Washington in January this year, US Secretary of State Antony 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,” according to a US Department of State statement.
Blinken also said the United States rejected China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea and “pledged to stand with Southeast Asian claimants” against pressure from Beijing.
In his talk at Thursday’s online forum, Lorenzana said that when it came to the South China Sea dispute, China was “in no hurry for any resolution that is not in its favor.”
He noted that Beijing was “adept at gaming the system” where the MDT was concerned.
“It knew that any aggression it takes will trigger the MDT. So, what it did was to employ what is called the ‘grayzone tactics,’ using maritime militias in asserting its so-called historical claims and cabbage tactics, that is, to overwhelm and seize control of an island by surrounding and wrapping it in successive layers of ships,” the defense chief explained.
He cited the swarming of Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef west of Palawan in March 2021 by 220 mostly Chinese maritime militia vessels.
Reasons to revise
Lorenzana said one way of dealing with this Chinese strategy is by making revisions in the MDT.
He said amending the MDT could also address other challenges faced by the Philippines.
“The 70 years of the MDT was remarkable not for what happened but for what did not happen. First, no foreign power attacked any one of the parties. Not that we would have wanted this to happen, but quite the contrary, we were happy that it did not,” he said.
“Second, one of the provisions of the treaty is for mutual assistance to improve the other’s military capability. This, too, did not happen,” he added, referring to AFP receiving “hand-me-down” war materiel from the US military.
He warned that beneath the “relatively peaceful” security environment in the Indo-Pacific region were issues among countries that could “ignite open hostilities” if not managed properly.
These issues include the territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea; China’s dream of unification with Taiwan; the nuclear-armed North Korea; the existence of homegrown terrorists; the proliferation of narcotics; transnational crimes; the exploitation of resources; and the effects of climate change.
“Most of these problems were nonexistent when the MDT was signed in 1951,” he pointed out.
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