U.S. to protect PH in case of South China Sea attack – Pompeo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 1) — The U.S. will secure and defend the Philippines in case of an attack in the disputed South China Sea, Washington's top diplomat said Friday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will continue to uphold its 68-year-old mutual defense treaty (MDT) with the Philippines in the wake of Beijing's aggressive militarization in the South China Sea that has raised security concerns.

"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 United States. As South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea would trigger mutual defense obligations under Article IV of our Mutual Defense Treaty," he said in a joint media briefing with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

The MDT, signed by the Philippines and U.S. in 1951, states that both countries would assist each other when either one is attacked by a foreign force. MDT's Article IV states that an armed attack against any of the parties "declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes." When or how the U.S. will step in in case of an attack remains unclear.

For Locsin, he said there is no need to review the treaty, despite the call of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to remove so-called ambiguities in the agreement, ushering the idea of clarifying provisions in the treaty to cover issues surrounding the hotly-contested South China Sea.

"In my own view, in vagueness lies deterrence... I don't believe going down into the details is the way the sincerity of the American commitment will be shown.," the DFA secretary said.

Locsin cautioned against what an MDT review could lead to.

"Being specific, allows any aggressor to go around those particular specifics and still achieve its purpose and commit aggression, it would be outside the purview of the MDT. If you make a major review, it will require congressional approval from the U.S. Congress and Philippine Congress. And if that happens, we may end up with something that isn't just a review, but no MDT at all," he said.

Locsin said the review of the MDT requires "further thought," adding he and Pompeo agreed to hold more high-level visits.