MDT commitments cover all PHL assets in SCS–Austin

WASHINGTON, for the nth time, has assured Manila that an attack on any assets of the Philippine military and even public vessels in South China Sea are covered by its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.

The assurance was made by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III during his meeting with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is currently on an official visit in the US.

“Secretary Austin reiterated that the US commitment to Philippine security is ironclad, and that US Mutual Defense Treaty commitments extend to Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft in the South China Sea,” a read-out of Austin’s meeting with Lorenzana released by the US Department of Defense said.

The meeting between the two leaders was held at the Pentagon on Monday (US time).

Chinese military and paramilitary vessels are present in swarming numbers at the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and West Philippine Sea (WPS), which Beijing is disputing with Manila.

The Chinese ships prowling Philippine maritime waters in the KIG and WPS or what forms Manila’s exclusive economic zone, have been reported to be harassing Filipino fishermen and even military resupply missions.

During the meeting, Austin and Lorenzana agreed to advance their partnership under the defense treaty by “strengthening commitments through the development of bilateral defense guidelines; enhancing maritime coordination and cooperation through the completion of a bilateral maritime framework; and improving interoperability and information sharing by exercising new capabilities.”

The US and the Philippines concluded more than a week ago their annual military exercise Balikatan in Central and Northern Luzon, which the Armed Forces of the Philippines said was the biggest in the history of the bilateral exercise.

The war games, held under the ambit of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, was joined by more than 8, 000 Filipino and American troops.

Austin and Lorenzana affirmed the “enduring nature” of the alliance and the importance of ensuring peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“The Secretaries closed the meeting by reiterating their commitment to supporting the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, and to ensuring the alliance remains capable and is based on shared interests and values,” the readout said.

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