US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends the 10th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers Meeting - Plus, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 16 November 2023. EFE-EPA/WILLY KURNIAWAN / POOL

US reaffirms ‘ironclad’ commitment to Philippines’ defense amid tensions with China

Jakarta, Nov 16 (EFE).- US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday reiterated his country’s “ironclad” commitment to defending the Philippines amid escalating tensions between Beijing and Manila over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Austin made these remarks in a meeting with his Philippine counterpart, Gilbert Teodoro, in Jakarta, on Wednesday on the sidelines of the meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the Philippines is a member and which the US attends as a guest, along with representatives of China, Russia, Japan, India and other countries.

“The Secretaries welcomed the historic momentum in US-Philippine ties and discussed their mutual commitment to strengthening the US-Philippine alliance, which has upheld peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for over seventy years,” the US and Philippine defense departments said in a joint readout of the meeting.

“Secretary Austin reiterated President Biden’s message that the US defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad and emphasized that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone,” the readout added.

The meeting took place while Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is in San Francisco to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

It was also held hours before US President Joe Biden met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC Forum, resulting in the resumption of military communication between the two countries.

Tensions have escalated in recent times between China and the Philippines, which accused a Chinese coast guard ship on Friday of firing a water cannon at one of its boats, which was carrying supplies to Filipino soldiers on an island in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

“Both leaders also condemned the recent harassment of Philippine Coast Guard and resupply vessels conducting lawful resupply operations” and discussed recent provocations by China, including “dangerous maneuvers against US aircraft and ships operating in the South China Sea,” the readout said.

China and the Philippines dispute the sovereignty of several islands and shoals in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely citing “historical records.”

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of Manila in its complaint against Beijing’s claims, a ruling China has refused to accept.

The Philippines and the US have strengthened their defense ties since Marcos Jr. took office last year in a departure from the stance adopted towards China by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte. EFE