Biden pledges to defend Philippines from any attack in South China Sea | Philippines

Joe Biden has pledged to defend the Philippines from any attack in the South China Sea, as he hosted the first joint summit with Manila and Tokyo amid growing tensions with Beijing.

“The United States’ defence commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are ironclad,” the US president said on Thursday as he met the Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos and Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida.

The summit at the White House comes after repeated confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the disputed waterway that have raised fears of a wider conflict.

Biden’s pledge follows a bilateral meeting between Biden and Kishida and the upgrading of their alliance, which also drew strong condemnation from the Chinese government.

“Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty,” said Biden.

The US president made a similar commitment when he hosted the Philippine president at the White House last year.

China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several south-east Asian nations including the Philippines.

The so-called “gray-zone” harassment by China has included shining military-grade lasers at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), firing water cannon at vessels and ramming into Philippine ships running resupply missions near the Second Thomas Shoal, which both Manila and Beijing claim.

In 1999, Manila intentionally ran a second world war-era ship aground on the shoal, establishing a permanent military presence there.

Beijing accused the Philippines of violating Chinese sovereignty in the South China Sea on Thursday.

The foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, said China was “committed to managing the situation at Ren’ai Jiao with the Philippines through dialogue and consultation” but that the Philippines had refused to tow away the vessel. She said Beijing would “allow” the resupply missions if it was given prior notice and the ability to inspect and monitor the process.

Mao also accused Manila of ignoring a “gentleman’s agreement” made with the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte, who on Friday told the Chinese state media outlet, the Global Times, that he believed the US was directing the new Philippines government.

“When I was president of the Philippines, there was no quarrel in the South China Sea, we were able to return to normal (relations),” he told the nationalistic tabloid.

“I’m pretty sure that it’s the US that is giving instructions to the Philippines, telling the current Philippine government not to be afraid (to go for a fight) because the US will support Manila.”

Chinese coast guard ships also regularly approach disputed Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands near Taiwan, and the increasing tensions have prompted Biden to boost alliances in the region.

As they met around a horseshoe-shaped wooden table in the grand East Room of the US presidential residence, the US, Japanese and Philippine leaders hailed the meeting as “historic.”

Without mentioning China by name, they painted their alliance as a bedrock of peace and democracy in the Asia-Pacific region in contrast to authoritarian Beijing.

Marcos, seen as closer to Washington than his more China-leaning predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, said they shared an “unwavering commitment to the rules-based international order.”

Kishida said that “multi-layered cooperation is essential” and that “today’s meeting will make history.”

Biden, 81, also held separate talks with Marcos, 66, the son and namesake of the country’s former dictator.

The joint summit came a day after Biden hosted a lavish state visit for Japan’s Kishida during which he unveiled a historic upgrade in defense ties aimed at countering a resurgent China.

Directly warning of risks from the rise of China, Kishida said that Japan – stripped of its right to a military after the second world war – was determined to do more to share responsibility with its ally the United States.

China responded, saying the United States and Japan had “smeared” its reputation during Kishida’s state visit.

Beijing foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Washington and Tokyo had “attacked China on Taiwan and maritime issues, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, and seriously violated the basic norms governing international relations.”

Japan and the Philippines are the latest Asia-Pacific allies to be hosted by Biden, who was joined by Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at Camp David in August.

But Biden has also moved to manage tensions with China, holding a two-hour phone call with President Xi Jinping last week after a face-to-face meeting in San Francisco in November.

On Wednesday Biden said the major upgrade in defense ties with Japan was “purely defensive” and “not aimed at any one nation or a threat to the region.”

With Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

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