In historic Palawan trip, Kamala Harris vows US to back PH amid maritime tensions

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) — US Vice President Kamala Harris flew to Palawan on Tuesday in a historic trip that aimed to reaffirm America’s support for long-standing ally Philippines amid tensions in the South China Sea.

During her speech before the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the area, Harris said that the Philippines’ 2016 arbitral victory on the maritime case “must be respected,” and likewise called on parties to uphold international rules and norms.

“As an ally, the United States stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea,” Harris said.

“We will continue to rally our allies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior. When the international rules-based order is threatened somewhere, it is threatened everywhere,” she added.

An international tribunal in The Hague earlier recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas that Beijing contests in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims. The UN tribunal also invalidated China's sweeping claims to virtually the entire South China Sea.

The East Asian giant, however, rejected the ruling and continued to make its presence felt in the waters — despite repeated protests from the Philippine government.

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Harris meanwhile noted that the US and the rest of the international community have a “profound stake” in the future of the region, citing the “billions of dollars that flow through these waters every day.”

“We must stand up for principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and throughout the Indo-Pacific,” she said.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China not against Harris’ trip

Harris’ visit to Palawan earlier raised concerns of possibly fueling tensions between the Philippines and China due to its proximity to the disputed Spratly Islands.

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the view.

“We are not against the US’s interaction with regional countries,” it said in a statement shared by the Chinese Embassy in Manila. “But it should be good for regional peace and stability and not damaging to other countries’ interests.”

More support for PH

Meanwhile, Harris also announced during her Palawan trip additional US support for the Philippines.

These include a training program for the PCG, as well as new funding to help boost the capacity and upgrade the equipment of Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies.

She said the US government’s “Indo-Pacific Partnership For Maritime Domain Awareness” project will also help provide nations — including the Philippines— with a more accurate picture of their territorial waters.

“So that our allies and partners can better protect vulnerable fisheries, respond to humanitarian disasters, and detect and counter illicit activities,” Harris said.