Manila, March 1 (IANS) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Friday that China’s military activity in the disputed South China Sea is a threat to the sovereignty of the Philippines.
Pompeo arrived in Manila on Thursday night for a two-day official visit to the country and held a brief meeting with the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
He also met his Philippines counterpart Teodoro Locsin on Friday, Efe news reported.
“As an island nation, the Philippines depends on free and unobstructed access to the seas. China’s island-building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood, as well as that of the US,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Locsin in Manila.
“As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defence obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defence Treaty,” he added.
The defence treaty, signed between the traditional political and military allies in 1951, establishes that the countries would help each other if they are attacked by an external party.
Pompeo’s remarks came after the Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced a few weeks ago that he had asked for a review of the treaty to clarify “ambiguities” on the joint response if tensions in the South China Sea escalate.
Speaking on the matter at the joint press conference, Locsin said that he did not believe there was a need for a review as “in vagueness lies the best deterrence”.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague granted sovereignty to the Philippines of several territories in the South China Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal and part of the Spratly Islands, an area of great geo-strategic importance as over half the world’s trade passes through it.
China rejected the ruling and continued its military activities without any protest from Duterte’s government, which reoriented its foreign policy towards the Asian giant in exchange for generous investments and loans.