Tensions between the Philippines and China are on the rise over the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Manila has accused Beijing of sending a “maritime militia” near Whitson Reef, a feature about 175 miles west of the Philippine province of Palawan, although Beijing insists the ships in the area are only fishing vessels.
Manila’s rhetoric against China’s activities in the region has gotten more strident in recent days. On Monday, an aide to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the presence of Chinese vessels near Whitson Reef risks damaging ties and “unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not pursue.”
Amid the tensions, the US sailed an aircraft carrier and its strike group into the South China Sea.
According to the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI), the USS Theodore Roosevelt and two other warships entered the disputed waters on Sunday.
Last week, US officials reassured Manila that Washington would intervene in the event of a naval incident between China and the Philippines in the region. According to the White House, in a conversation with his Philippine counterpart, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “reaffirmed the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea.”
The US and the Philippines are currently negotiating the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows US troops to be stationed in the Southeast Asian country on a rotational basis. Duterte was ready to scrap the agreement after the US sanctioned Philippine officials for their role in the country’s drug war but reversed the decision, citing tensions in the South China Sea.