U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to honor the 2016 decision that overruled its territorial claims in the South China Sea. The top American diplomat added that the U.S. is required to defend the Philippines if its forces, ships or aircraft come under attack in the disputed waters.
Blinken’s statement was released Tuesday by the U.S. Embassy in Manila. It came on the sixth anniversary of a 2016 ruling under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea by a court based in The Hague.
In 2013, the Philippine government complained about China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed waters. The court’s ruling rejected China’s claims over almost all of the South China Sea. But China refused to be a part of the hearing and rejected the court’s ruling.
Blinken said, “We call again on the PRC to abide by its obligations under international law and cease its provocative behavior.” PRC stands for China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China.
“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments” under the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, he added.
There was no immediate reaction from China. But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Malaysia that China is speeding up talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “We will oppose bloc confrontation and Cold War mentality,” Wang said. He did not take any questions.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have territorial claims in the busy waterway. An estimated $5 trillion in goods passes through the South China Sea each year. And the sea is believed to be rich in undersea gas and oil resources.
The U.S. does not make any claim in the disputed waters. But it has deployed Navy ships and Air Force planes in the waterway for many years to protect freedom of navigation. That has brought angry reactions from China, which has accused the U.S. of interfering in an Asian dispute and warned it to stay away.
Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sought closer relations with China and criticized U.S. security policies. In 2019, Duterte said he finally asked China’s President Xi Jinping to honor the ruling. But he was told that China will not drop its claims.
New Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office on June 30 after a large electoral victory.
The new Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said Tuesday that the U.N. ruling will be an important part of his new government’s policy and actions in the disputed area. “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it…even erase it from law, history and our collective memories,” said Manalo, who did not directly name China.
Marcos Jr. has said that he would not permit even one “square millimeter” of Philippine waters to be violated. But he said in January before winning the presidency that since China has refused to recognize the ruling, Duterte’s policy of dealing with the issue diplomatically is “really our only option.”
On Tuesday, a group of activists and workers protested in front of the Chinese Consulate in Manila. They asked China to respect the U.N.’s ruling and for Marcos Jr. to defend the country’s territorial rights in the South China Sea.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Jim Gomez reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
abide by –v. (phrasal) to accept or to be guided by
obligation –n. something that must be done because of a rule, law or promise
provocative –adj. causing discussion, thought or argument
vessel –n. a ship or large boat
bloc –n. a group of people or countries that are connected by a treaty or agreement
navigation –n. the act of traveling by ship over an area of water
option –n. a choice or a possibility
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