United States Vice President, Kamala Harris, will fly to a western Philippines island province at the edge of the South China Sea today, November 22, 2022.
The purpose of the visit is to amplify America’s support to its treaty ally and emphasize United States interest in freedom of navigation in the disputed waters, where it has repeatedly chastised China for its aggressive actions.
A new confrontation arose in the contested waterway ahead of her visit when the Philippine navy alleged a Chinese coast guard vessel had forcibly seized Chinese rocket debris as Filipino sailors were towing it to their island.
The territorial conflicts which involves China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have long been a delicate fault line in the United States-China rivalry in the region.
In a meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila on Monday, November 21, 2022, Harris reaffirmed United States’ commitment to defend the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates the allies to help defend any side which comes under attack.
“An armed attack on the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. Mutual Defense commitments and that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines.”Kamala Harris, United States Vice President
Marcos Jr. expressed gratitude to Harris, saying that with the upheavals in the region and beyond, “this partnership becomes even more important.”
In Palawan’s main city of Puerto Princesa, Harris would visit a small fishing community called Tagburos and discuss with impoverished villagers the impact of illegal fishing on their livelihood and promote responsible fishing.
Kamala Harris is scheduled to deliver a speech to reiterate the importance of international law, freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in the South China Sea.
According to a statement issued by the vice president’s office, Harris will announce an additional aid of $7.5 million to Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies to boost their capacity to counter illegal fishing, carry out sea surveillance and help in search and rescue efforts, including in the South China Sea.
The Philippine coast guard would also get additional United States aid to upgrade its vessel traffic management system for better safety at sea.
According to Harris’ office, The Philippines is also now receiving real-time surveillance data to be able to detect and counter illicit activities at sea in a project by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue; an informal strategic bloc that involves the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.
While the U.S. lays no claims to the strategic waterway, where an estimated $5 trillion in global trade transits each year, it has said that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is in America’s national interest.
China Militarizes Islands In The South China Sea
In March, U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John C. Aquilino disclosed that China has fully militarized at least three of several islands it built in the disputed South China Sea, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment in an increasingly aggressive move that threatens nations that operate nearby.
Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos, commander of the Philippine Military’s Western Command, disclosed that a Chinese coast guard ship twice blocked a civilian boat manned by Philippine navy personnel on Sunday, November 20, 2022 before seizing the debris it was towing off Thitu island.
Chinese coast guard ships have blocked Philippine supply boats delivering supplies to Filipino forces in the disputed waters in the past but seizing objects in the possession of another nation’s military constitutes a more brazen act.
China has warned United States not to meddle in what it calls a purely Asian dispute.