In the Philippines, Blinken promises to strengthen military ties

MANILA — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines and Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said on Saturday that their nations were committed to strengthening their military alliance and that their governments would have to deal with rising tensions in Asiaincluding those involving China and Taiwan.

mr. Marcos said at the beginning of the meeting with Mr. Blinken at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s presidential palace visit to Taiwan according to him, he did not increase this tension; rather, it “demonstrates how the intensity of the conflict has been at this level for some time, but we kind of got used to the idea and then put it aside.”

mr. Marcos’ comments came as China continued military exercises in waters near Taiwan, two days after it fired 11 ballistic missiles into the same area, five of which landing in waters which are part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The United States, Japan and other nations issued statements condemning China’s actions and calling for de-escalation. The words of Mr. Marcos also supported Mr. Blinken and other U.S. officials that Ms. Pelosi’s visit was consistent with U.S. policy on Taiwan, not a change in the status quo.

mr. Marcos also talked about upgrading the mutual defense agreement between the United States and the Philippines. The two countries are treaty allies and the US military has long maintained a presence in the Philippines. US officials are discussing possible greater access to military bases in the country, conducting more exercises between the two armies and making their defense systems more interoperable – part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at increasing cooperation with allies and partners to counter China.

mr. Marcos spoke of the need to “evolve this relationship in the face of all the changes we are seeing,” adding that “the Mutual Defense Treaty is in constant evolution.”

mr. Blinken agreed. “The Union is strong,” he said, “and I believe it can become even stronger.”

mr. Marcos was took an oath in late June after being elected the 17th President of the Philippines in a landslide victory. He is the son and namesake of former dictator who fled to Hawaii with his family in 1986 after a peaceful uprising by citizens enraged by his father’s brazen corruption. The elder Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989.

The question of how to counter China’s assertive behavior in the region while treating it as an important economic partner was one that came up during Blinken’s meetings with Philippine officials on Saturday, as well as in his discussions with other Asian dignitaries of regional summit in Cambodia this week.

After Mr. Blinken and Enrique A. Manalo, the foreign minister of the Philippines, met via video, Mr. Manalo said in response to a question at a press conference that the two countries could explore the possibility of joint naval patrols in the Pacific Ocean.

mr. Manalo talks to mr. Blinken on video and participated virtually in the press conference as he tested positive for coronavirus.

mr. Blinken told reporters that in his discussions he reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines and said any armed attack on the Philippine military would trigger pledges in their mutual defense treaty.

He also condemned illegal fishing and environmental destruction in Asian waters by “external actors”. Together, these comments were a clear reference to China’s actions. For years, nations in the region have complained of illegal fishing by Chinese boats believed to be operating in the seas with the approval of the Chinese navy.

The Chinese government has made extensive claims to territorial control over waters and land features in the South China Seadespite competing claims by Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines, and Washington’s insistence that all nations maintain freedom of navigation.

Ships from China and the Philippines collided over Scarborough Shoal and an international court in The Hague ruled in 2016 that the shoal is sovereign territory of the Philippines and that China cannot claim the entire South China Sea as its own. China continues to send ships to the area and impose control over it.

mr. Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, tried to adopt a more conciliatory policy toward China, including a retreat from strong territorial claims over the South China Sea. But Mr. Marcos comes across promised to maintain the decision of the international court – a decision that will almost certainly bring his government into conflict with China.

mr. Duterte, who had been in office for six years, at one point moved to terminate a major military agreement between the United States and the Philippines. This and other actions of Mr. Duterte, who was widely criticized for human rights violations and authoritarian practices strained relations between Manila and Washington.

But last year Mr. Duterte reaffirmed the agreement for the visiting forces between countries that the Philippine military strongly supports. The agreement sets the terms for the rotation of US troops through the Philippines for training and exercises.

In the press conference with Mr. Manalo, Mr. Blinken also criticized China for its decision on Friday to cut eight areas of cooperation and dialogue with the United States over Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, including military-to-military talks and climate change talks.

“Ending climate cooperation does not punish the United States; it is punishing the world, especially in the developing world,” he said. “We should not hold issues of global importance hostage because of the differences between our two countries.

mr. Blinken said he warned Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, at a meeting of foreign ministers on Friday morning at the Cambodia summit against continued escalating action against Ms. Pelosi’s visit. Hours later, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the suspension of the cooperation areas.

“I think maintaining a dialogue is even more important when we’re in a period of heightened tension like we are now,” said Mr. Blinken said at a press conference in Manila.

After the press conference, Mr. Blinken visited a Covid-19 vaccination clinic at the Manila Zoo and watched a young boy and a young girl get vaccinated. Dropping to his knees, he told the boy that he himself had received four injections. He later spoke of the need for nations to work together to stop it the coronavirus pandemicand he fed fruit to a Sri Lankan elephant before leaving the zoo.

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