President Biden hosted Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the White House on Monday amid heightened tensions with China and told him that the US commitment to defending the Philippines is “ironclad.”
In comments ahead of a meeting with Marcos, Biden said the US “remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea, and we’re going to continue to support the Philippines’ military modernization goals.”
Marcos told Biden that the Philippines was located in “arguably the most complicated geopolitical situation in the world right now.”
“And so, it is only natural that — for the Philippines to look to its sole treaty partner in the world to strengthen and to redefine the relationship that we have and the roles that we play in the face of those rising tensions that we see now around the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions,” the Philippine leader added.
Tensions are soaring in the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines, and several other countries have overlapping claims. A recent encounter between a Chinese ship and a Philippine vessel almost resulted in a collision, causing the US to remind China the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty applies to Philippine boats.
According to the White House, Biden underscored that “an armed attack in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea, on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Marcos’ visit to Washington comes after Washington and Manila signed a deal to expand the US military presence in the Philippines by giving US forces access to four more bases. The long-time treaty allies also just concluded their largest-ever joint military exercises, which included drills on the Philippines’ northern islands south of Taiwan and live-fire exercises in the South China Sea.
On Monday, Biden and Marcos agreed to take other steps to strengthen the military alliance. According to the White House, the US will transfer military equipment to the Philippines’ armed forces, including “two Island-class patrol vessels, two Protector-class patrol vessels, and three C-130H aircraft.”
The White House said the two countries have also adopted “Bilateral Defense Guidelines that institutionalize key bilateral priorities, mechanisms, and processes to deepen alliance cooperation and interoperability across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.”
The US and the Philippines will also take steps to boost economic cooperation. Marcos’ efforts to strengthen ties with the US breaks from the policies of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who at one point wanted to kick US forces out of his country.