Chinese armed attacks in West PH Sea to ‘trigger US obligations’ in defense treaty – official

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8) — The Biden administration remains steadfast in its support for the Philippines amid its ongoing diplomatic protest against China over the continued presence of Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in light of Chinese incursion in Philippine waters, has assured the activation of the mutual defense treaty between the two states if necessary.

"As we have stated before, an armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty," Blinken's spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday.

The decades-old military agreement between Manila and Washington states that each country would come to the defense of the other in case of an attack by a foreign country.

The US State Department quoted Blinken, "'United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the PRC's [People's Republic of China's] maritime militia amassing at Whitsun Reef. We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order.'”

The Philippines on Wednesday started its plan to fire off daily diplomatic protests for each day Chinese vessels believed to be maritime militia refuse to leave Julian Felipe Reef. The country's officials have issued stern statements regarding their presence but the vessels still would not leave the area.

Forty-four Chinese vessels are moored at Julian Felipe Reef, based on latest information from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea. China claims the ships are not militia but fishing vessels taking shelter from bad weather. The DFA in a statement on Monday said these are "blatant falsehoods."

The Julian Felipe Reef, also known as Whitsun Reef, is a shallow coral reef 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza town in Palawan, well within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. It is part of Beijing's vast claims in the South China Sea, which includes areas Manila considers the West Philippine Sea.

On March 20, the task force reported spotting over 200 Chinese vessels in the area, a figure that slightly went down to 183 days later. Aerial and maritime patrols last week showed that 44 Chinese vessels are still at Julian Felipe Reef while over 200 others are dispersed in different areas in the West Philippine Sea.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal recognized Manila's sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone that Beijing contests, invalidating the East Asian giant's historic nine-dash line claim to almost the entire South China Sea. It also ruled that China’s island-building activities on several reefs in the Kalayaan Island Group constitute violations to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS and “have caused devastating and long-lasting damage to the marine environment.” China rejects the landmark ruling.

Aside from China's presence at Julian Felipe Reef, the military also spotted "illegal" man-made structures around the area, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group in the disputed Spratlys. Lawmakers and maritime experts say the Philippines should band together with other countries to rally international pressure against China.

The US has also expressed support for other Asian nations that are being bullied by China. After reports that China's armed forces conducted simultaneous military exercises to the west and east of Taiwan, Blinken warned that Washington and Tokyo are prepared to push back against Chinese threats to stability and order in Asia.