MANILA: The Philippines’ partnership with the US has grown more important in the face of “upheavals” in the region, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Monday as Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Manila on matters related to the disputed South China Sea.
Harris was on a three-day trip to the Southeast Asian country that included a stop on the Philippine islands on the edge of the South China Sea. She is the highest-ranking American official to visit the Southeast Asian country since Marcos took office earlier this year.
The visit showcased the latest attempt to revive ties between Washington and its oldest Asian ally, as Marcos took a foreign policy shift from the days of former President Rodrigo Duterte, who oversaw a strategy to distance the Philippines from the US and embraced a China-friendly direction.
“The relationship between our two countries is something that both our countries have really come to depend upon. And the more the upheavals that we are seeing, especially in the region, this partnership becomes even more important,” Marcos told Harris during their meeting, which was partly livestreamed.
“The situation is rapidly changing. We must evolve to be properly responsive to that situation,” he said, later adding that he does not see a future for the Philippines that does not include the US.
The meeting also saw Harris reaffirming Washington’s commitment to Manila under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
“We must reiterate always that we stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea. And (an) armed attack on the Philippines armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US Mutual Defense commitments,” Harris told Marcos.
“That is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines,” she said.
Harris is scheduled to visit Palawan on Tuesday, making her the first US official to visit the island province near the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines, and several other countries in the region have rival claims.
In the latest incident in the disputed waterway, a Philippine military commander said on Monday that a Chinese coastguard ship “forcefully retrieved” a piece of rocket that was being towed by a Philippine vessel, a claim that China has denied.
The Philippine government has filed hundreds of diplomatic protests in the past few years against Chinese activity in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea, after an international tribunal in The Hague dismissed China’s sweeping claim to the region.