MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippines may seek help from the United States, with which it has a mutual defense treaty, to protect its interests in the South China Sea, the Manila Department of Defense said Thursday in a veiled threat in the midst of a growing feud. with China on a contested reef.
The Philippine government has demanded that dozens of Chinese ships it suspects be operated by militias to leave Whitsun Reef, which Manila claims in the waterway’s most controversial Spratly region. China has insisted it owns the reef and Chinese ships take shelter from rough seas.
The Philippine Army deployed Coast Guard and Navy patrols near the area, flew surveillance planes, and posted photos of Chinese ships, many of which were laid out side by side as they moored at the reef, that Manila calls Julian Felipe. The deadlock sparked a heated exchange between Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
“As the situation in the Western Philippine Sea evolves, we are keeping all of our options open to handle the situation, including leveraging our partnerships with other countries such as the United States,” the spokesperson said. word of the Ministry of National Defense, Arsenio Andolong, in a press release. Filipino name for the South China Sea.
“We are continually in talks with the United States on the issue of mutual defense,” Andolong said. “Both parties are committed to fulfilling their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty so that neither party is alone in these matters involving the inherent right of self-defense of both states.”
The United States said it would stand with the Philippines amid the dispute and accused China of using “maritime militias to intimidate, provoke and threaten other nations.”
Andolong praised the remarks of US State Department spokesman Ned Price, who reiterated in a recent press briefing that an armed attack on Philippine military forces, public ships or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, “will trigger our obligations” under the 1951 Allied Treaty, which provides that the two nations will support each other if either is attacked by another country in the region.
Invoking the treaty, however, could be a complicated step and could be blocked by opponents on either side, including US lawmakers.
The Chinese Embassy said that “it is quite normal” for Chinese fishing boats to fish and take shelter in Whitsun, which it calls Niu’e Jiao. “No one has the right to make gratuitous remarks on such activities,” he said.
Amid the stalemate, Andolong said the Philippines would protect and defend their national interests “while maintaining security and stability in the region through a peaceful and rules-based approach.”
The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest, claiming that the reef, which lies approximately 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of the Philippine province of Palawan, is in an internationally recognized offshore area where it has exclusive rights. to exploit fishing, oil and gas. and other resources.
“For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will file a diplomatic protest,” the Manila Foreign Ministry said.
The Spratly chain of islands, islets and atolls are also claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. China has turned seven disputed reefs into island missile-protected bases in recent years, escalating tensions.