Pompeo assures aid on Philippines in case of armed attack in South China Sea
United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo categorically assured on Friday that it would support the Philippines in case of an armed attack in the South China Sea.
This was the first time the US made such a statement in the wake of the Philippines' territorial dispute with China.
"China's island building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security and therefore economic livelihood as well as that of the United States," Pompeo said in a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. at the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Pasay City after their 30-minute meeting.
"As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, Republic vessels in the South China Sea would trigger mutual defense obligations under Article IV of our Mutual Defense Treaty," said Pompeo, who is on a two-day visit to Manila.
Article IV of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty provides, "Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes."
China has been claiming almost the entire South China Sea.
Pompeo said when he spoke with President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night, as well as during his meeting with Locsin, he reiterated US commitment under the treaty.
He stressed that the South China Sea is an important body of water for freedom of navigation and it should remain open.
But he said the "Philippines need to do its part" as well as the other countries in the region to ensure that these vital economic sea lanes are open and that "China does not pose a threat to closing them."
During the Aquino administration, the government brought up a case before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal, questioning China's "historic" and "sovereign" claim in almost the whole South China Sea through its so-called nine-dash line.
The Philippines won the case in 2016 despite China's non-participation.
However, when Duterte assumed office in 2016, he decided to put at the back burner the arbitral ruling as he wanted a friendlier stance with Beijing.
The dispute in the South China Sea apparently triggered some quarters to call for the review of the Philippine-US MDT.
But Locsin, in the same briefing, said he personally does not see the need of taking a look again on the treaty.
"The question (on) MDT review, update to respond to changing realities, my own view and it is a dynamic exchange in government, my own view is, 'No'. I believe in the old theory of deterrence...in vagueness lies the best deterrence," said Locsin, a lawyer.
"How do you flesh out that vagueness? In repeated assurance by the United States that in the event aggression is committed against the Philippines. I don't believe that going down into the details is the way the sincerity of American commitment will be shown. They will respond depending on the circumstances. But we are very assured, we are very confident that the United States, has in the words of Secretary Pompeo and the words of President (Donald) Trump to our President, 'we have your back'," he explained.
At the same time, during the meeting with Locsin, Pompeo said he also brought up the issue on human rights.
"I raise with my counterpart the importance of protecting the rights and liberty of Filipinos, including free speech, a free press and due process under the law," he said.
The current administration has been criticized due to the bloody war on illegal drugs and the alleged persecution by the government to Duterte's staunch critics. Celerina Monte/DMS