The defense chiefs of the United States and the Philippines have both issued statements condemning China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed several security issues, including China’s increasing gray-zone activities during their meeting in Washington, D.C. The officials issued a joint statement noting their “commitment to uphold international rules-based order and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.” This is not the first time that the US and Philippine defense chiefs have spoken out against China’s aggressive actions in the region.
China has been deploying vessels to the West Philippine Sea, an area in the disputed South China Sea that the Philippines claims as part of its exclusive economic zone. These so-called “gray-zone activities” refer to China’s use of non-military forces to exert its territorial claims, such as coast guard ships and fishing boats. These actions are aimed at gradually expanding China’s control over the region without triggering a military conflict.
But the Philippines and the US have both grown increasingly concerned about China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea. The joint statement from Secretary Austin and Secretary Lorenzana said that “China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea has sparked tensions with neighboring countries and raised serious concerns about its long-term strategic intentions.” They called on China to adhere to international law and resolve disputes peacefully.
The two defense chiefs also discussed the importance of the US-Philippine mutual defense treaty, which requires both countries to support each other in the event of an armed attack. The treaty has been called into question in recent years, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued closer ties with China and expressed skepticism about the US alliance. However, the joint statement from Secretary Austin and Secretary Lorenzana reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty and to “strengthening the two countries’ longstanding security alliance.”
The US has been increasing its military presence in the region in recent years as part of its broader effort to counter China’s growing influence. The US has conducted several freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, in which American warships sail close to Chinese-occupied islands to assert the right to navigate in international waters. China has denounced these operations as provocative and a violation of its sovereignty.
The Philippines has also been seeking to increase its own military capabilities in the face of China’s threat. The country has been working to modernize its armed forces and has turned to other countries for military hardware, including the US, Japan, and South Korea. The Philippines has also been working to build up its own coast guard, which plays a crucial role in patrolling the West Philippine Sea.
Overall, the joint statement from the US and Philippine defense chiefs reflects growing concerns about China’s actions in the South China Sea. These concerns are likely to continue as China seeks to expand its influence in the region and assert its territorial claims. The US and its allies will need to continue working together to counter this threat and uphold international law.