US and Philippines step up strategic partnership

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US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, (right), and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., (left), stand during the American national anthem at an enhanced honor cordon ceremony at the Pentagon, on April 12. (AP)

WASHINGTON, April 13, (AP): The Biden administration on Friday reassured the Philippines anew that the US commitment to the country’s defense is steadfast amid increasing concerns about provocative Chinese actions in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
A day after President Joe Biden convened a trilateral summit involving himself, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the U.S. and Filipino foreign and defense ministers and national security advisers met to discuss strategic and military issues.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and national security adviser Jake Sullivan hosted their Philippine counterparts at the State Department.
“Today’s meeting reflects the growing and deepening cope between our countries on a broad array of issues and of course our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, including in the South China Sea,” Blinken said in brief opening remarks. “We very much welcome this opportunity to pursue that cooperation, that collaboration and of course we stand with the Philippines in our iron-clad defense commitments including the Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo echoed those remarks. “We attach a lot of importance to this meeting especially in light of recent developments in the South China Sea, especially China’s escalation of its harassment,” he said. “We are determined to assert our sovereign rights, especially within our exclusive economic zone.”
On Thursday at the summit, Biden said the US treaty obligations to its Pacific allies, like Japan and the Philippines, were “ironclad.” “Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty,” Biden said.
The White House billed the first trilateral summit with Japan and the Philippines as a potent response to China’s attempts at “intimidation” and said it would send a message that China is “the outlier in the neighborhood,” according to an administration official.
The U.S. and the Philippines have had a mutual treaty in place for more than 70 years. Biden’s vigorous reinforcement of the American commitment comes in the midst of persistent skirmishes between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards in the disputed South China Sea.

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