Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday promised the Philippines that the U.S. would defend the island nation if it was under attack in the South China Sea.
After the summit in Hanoi with North Korea, Pompeo stated that the 1951 Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defence Treaty would be adhered to if the Philippines are a victim of aggression by 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,” he told a news conference in Manila.
“Any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations.”
According to Reuters, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia have competed for claims of sovereignty in the waterway, a conduit for in excess of $3.4 trillion of goods carried annually on commercial vessels.
Pompeo stated that those countries were responsible for ensuring “these incredibly vital sea lanes are open and China does not pose a threat to closing them down.”
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that China and the countries around the South China Sea were working hard to protect peace and stability.
“So if countries outside the region, like the United States, really want to consider the peace, tranquillity, and well-being of people in the region, then they shouldn’t make trouble out of nothing and incite trouble,” Lu told reporters.
Pompeo also added that U.S. allies should consider the risks of using Chinese technology.
Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte believes that the alliance makes his country a potential target of China, adding that the U.S. did nothing to stop China from turning reefs into islands equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangers for fighter jets, all within firing distance of the Philippines.
Pompeo made a courtesy call on Duterte late on Thursday.
However, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin confirmed that discussions on the defense treaty were taking place, but in his own view, it was better not be too specific about its parameters, Reuters wrote.
“I believe in the old theory of deterrence,” he told reporters. “In vagueness lies the best deterrence.”
“We are very assured, we are very confident that United States has, in the words of Secretary Pompeo, and in the words of President Trump to our president, ‘we have your back’.”