Harris reaffirms US vow to defend PH if attacked over South China Sea row
MANILA, Philippines — United States Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday reaffirmed her government’s commitment to the defense of the Philippines in the event of a military strike over the contested waters of the South China Sea.
In a courtesy call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Harris said the relationship between the Philippines and the US is “long and enduring” and is based on “mutual commitment to the economic prosperity” and “mutual concerns about the security in the region.”
“I will say that we must reiterate always that we stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea,” she said.
“An armed attack on the Philippines, armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments and that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines.”
“We know that there are so many opportunities for us to continue to strengthen our relationship, that the basis of our relationship is based on mutual commitments to international rules and norms and upholding those international rules and norms in all the ways that we know allow for again prosperity and security for our respective nations in the region,” Harris also said.
She also said that US-Philippines ties continue to strengthen under the leadership of Marcos.
“We look forward to working with you on many of these issues, and of course, I bring you greetings from President Biden,” Harris said.
Marcos already met with US President Joe Biden last September during his six-day working visit to New York to attend the 77th United Nations General Assembly.
Years after chilly relations under the Rodrigo Duterte administration, President Ferdinand Marcos has welcomed the highest-ranking US official to visit Manila.
Under the new administration in Manila, the US is looking to strengthen its security relationship with the Philippines.
Harris is in the Philippines for a series of engagements, including meetings with Marcos on the economic and security ties between the two countries and a trip to Palawan.
Marcos said he saw no reason Harris’ visit to the Philippines, especially to Palawan, would stir tensions between the Philippines and China despite the island province’s proximity to the disputed waters.
Harris is scheduled to visit the Philippine province of Palawan on Tuesday. Palawan is located in the midst of disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Almost the entire sea is claimed by China, with competing claims also being made by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.
Beijing has disregarded the 2016 verdict of an international panel that found no legal foundation for its claims.
Harris is also set to meet with the Philippine Coast Guard on one of the country’s two largest coast guard vessels and give a speech to the organization’s personnel.
Pag-asa Island blasts
On Sunday, residents of Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the West Philippine Sea reported hearing a series of blasts loud enough to shock the ground as they reverberated over the island.
(The South China Sea is called the West Philippine Sea for national mapping purposes because Manila disagrees with China’s claim to sovereignty over the whole region. It’s not about claiming the entire South area, but rather claiming the smaller area right off the coast that’s in its Exclusive Economic Zone).
From the Chinese-held Zamora (Subi) Reef, the largest of seven artificial islands erected by Beijing in the Spratly Islands, located some 26 kilometers distant, “the repetitive sounds” were suspected, according to a report from local authorities.
At least two authorities talked to the Inquirer on the condition of anonymity to say that the origin of the loud explosions reported between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. is still being confirmed.
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