The US and the Philippines should start joint patrols in the South China Sea later this year, Manila’s ambassador to the US said on Monday.
“An estimate would be no later than the third quarter of this year. We should have that in place,” Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said, according to Reuters.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Philippine counterpart announced earlier this year that they would begin joint patrols in the disputed waters but didn’t say when they would start.
When asked about the joint patrols, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Manila told Reuters, “Our conversations on combined maritime activities with the Philippines are continuing, and our military planners are working hard on specific issues like logistics.”
The US joining the Philippines in patrols in the South China Sea will likely lead to dangerous confrontations between American and Chinese vessels, as Manila and Beijing often has stand-offs near disputed reefs.
The most recent incident took place in April when a Chinese vessel blocked a Philippine boat near Second Thomas Shoal, which is controlled by the Philippines but also claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Romualdez’s comments come after the US and the Philippines issued updated guidelines for the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty. The guidelines make it official that the US is committed to intervening if a Philippine vessel comes under attack in the South China Sea, a pledge that has made the waters a potential flashpoint for a war between the US and China.