On Friday, the US reminded Beijing that the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty applies to attacks on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea after an incident between Chinese and Philippine boats in the disputed waters.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed the incident with his Philippine counterpart Friday and “reaffirmed the strong US commitment to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” the Pentagon said.
On November 16th, Chinese coast guard boats blocked and fired a water cannon at Philippine supply boats near the Second Thomas Shoal, a feature of the disputed Spratly Islands. Manila said nobody was hurt, but the boats couldn’t deliver the supplies to nearby military forces.
On Thursday, Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said China has no law enforcement rights in the area. “China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” he said. Locsin also warned Beijing of the US’s obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
With Washington backing Manila, and an uptick in US military activity in the South China Sea, the disputed waters have turned into a potential flashpoint for a conflict between the US and China.