The U.S. State Department on Tuesday renewed a warning that it would defend the Philippines should its forces come under attack in the disputed South China Sea.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a statement, after a Chinese Coast Guard ship last week allegedly hit a Philippine Coast Guard vessel with a military-grade laser, blinding some of the Filipino crew.
In his statement, Price asserted that China’s “dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law and undermines the rules-based international order.”
China claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety, despite claims by other nations in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. The Philippines filed nearly 200 diplomatic protests against China’s aggressive actions in the disputed waters in 2022 alone.
On February 2, the U.S. and the Philippines announced the expansion of America’s military presence in the archipelago nation, granting the U.S. four more military camps in Southeast Asia.
The deal in part reversed U.S. troop withdrawal from its former colony more than 30 years ago. It also raised already heightened tensions with China, which accused the U.S. of pursuing a “Cold War zero-sum mentality.”
In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, warning China that the U.S. would be compelled to act under the terms of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that obligates the U.S. and the Philippines to help defend each other in major conflicts, should it come to that.