President Joe Biden told Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the White House on Monday that the American commitment to the defense of his ally was “ironclad”, including in the South China Sea where Manila is under pressure from China.
Marcos, in the first visit to the White House by a Filipino leader in 10 years, stressed the importance of the United States as his country’s only ally in a treaty in a region with “arguably the geopolitical situation the most complicated in the world at the moment”.
U.S. officials said the leaders would agree new guidelines for enhanced military cooperation, as well as enhanced economic cooperation, pointing to a dramatic turnaround in U.S.-Philippine relations over the past year.
“The United States remains steadfast in our commitment to defending the Philippines, including the South China Sea,” Biden told Marcos in the Oval Office, reaffirming a 1951 mutual defense treaty that calls on the United States to act in the event of an armed attack against the Philippine army.
A US official said the new guidelines focus on military coordination on land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, while the US administration will also transfer three C-130 jets and seek to send additional patrol ships to the Philippines. .
“It is only natural that the Philippines look to its only treaty partner in the world to strengthen and redefine the relationship we have and the roles we play in the face of these growing tensions we are now seeing around the South China, Asia Region. -Pacific and Indo-Pacific,” Marcos said.
Under Rodrigo Duterte, Marcos’ predecessor, US relations soured as he abruptly turned the Philippines away from its former colonial ruler and tightened ties with China.
The summit is the centerpiece of a four-day U.S. tour by Marcos that kicked off on Sunday.
Biden invested to woo Marcos, who still faces a judgment from a US court linked to $2 billion in wealth looted during his father’s rule.
Washington helped Marcos’ father go into exile in Hawaii during a 1986 “people power” uprising, and as head of state his son is immune from US prosecution.
Biden remarked to Marcos that “it’s been a while since you’ve been here,” before adding that Marcos Jr. had accompanied his father to the United States when he met former President Ronald Reagan.
Marcos became president last year and has sought warm relations with the United States and China, which vie for influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Washington sees the Philippines as key to any effort to counter an invasion of Taiwan by China, which claims the island as its own territory. Manila recently agreed to allow the United States access to four more of its military bases under an enhanced defense cooperation agreement, but the two sides did not specify which American assets would be stationed there. .
Experts say Washington views the Philippines as a potential location for rockets, missiles and artillery systems to counter a Chinese amphibious assault on Taiwan.
However, Marcos told reporters on his plane that China had agreed to discuss fishing rights in the South China Sea and that he would not allow the Philippines to become a “transit post” for military action.
Before leaving for Washington on Sunday, Marcos said he would reaffirm Manila’s commitment “to promoting our longstanding alliance as an instrument of peace and a catalyst for development in the Asia-Pacific region.”
With many Filipinos frustrated by China’s actions in the South China Sea, including harassment of Filipino vessels and fishermen in parts of the sea claimed by both countries, popular support has grown for a stronger stance. hard on Beijing.
Distrust of China has only recently increased.
A comment reported last month by Beijing’s ambassador to Manila that the Philippines should not support Taiwan independence “if you care about the 150,000 foreign foreign workers” of Filipino descent living there has been seen as a “veiled threat,” a US official said.
Biden was the first official to reach out to Marcos after his election and has made strengthening economic and military ties in the Indo-Pacific region a cornerstone of his foreign policy.
Ahead of the summit, U.S. lawmakers sent a bipartisan letter to Biden calling on him to raise what they called the deepening human rights “crisis” in the Philippines.
In a statement, they said there were well-documented abuses under Duterte, but recent reports showed “continued impunity”. They cited reports by the Karapatan Human Rights Alliance of 17 extrajudicial executions, 165 unlawful arrests from July to December 2022, and a total of 825 political prisoners.
New Philippine bases the United States gained access to last month include three facing Taiwan and one near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China said it was “stoking the fire” of regional tensions and that Washington should play no role in a dispute far from its shores.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)