Vice President Kamala Harris will visit a Philippine island on the South China Sea that is near waters at the center of a maritime dispute between China and several Southeast Asian countries that all have overlapping claims.
Harris will be the highest-level US official to visit the Philippine province of Palawan, which lies just outside of the nine-dash-line that Beijing claims in the South China Sea. The visit is clearly meant as a message to China, and Harris is scheduled to visit one of the Philippine coast guard’s biggest patrol ships, where she will deliver a speech.
China and the Philippines occasionally have maritime stand-offs near disputed reefs in the South China Sea, and the US often reminds Beijing that it’s a treaty ally of Manila. The US has explicitly warned Beijing that an attack on Philippine vessels in the region would invoke the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between Washington and Manila, meaning the US is threatening to go to war with China over the maritime dispute.
Harris arrived in Manila on Sunday and is set to visit Palawan on Tuesday. On Monday, Harris will meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for talks that, according to a Biden administration official, will be focused on reinforcing the US-Philippine alliance.
Harris will also look for a boost in economic ties with Manila. The White House released a fact sheet on Sunday night that outlined initiatives the vice president will focus on, including the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a military pact between the US and the Philippines that was signed in 2014.
The EDCA was meant to enhance the Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which outlines rules for US troops stationed in the country. Under the EDCA, the US can rotate troops into the Philippines for prolonged deployments and build military facilities for US and Philippine forces to use.
The US is looking to expand military facilities using the EDCA. The White House said that new building locations have been “identified to enable the United States and the Philippines to continue to work together towards achieving the agreed objectives under EDCA.”