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Blinken touts ‘extraordinary and important’ relationship with Philippines amid Taiwan tension

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with new Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Saturday to reaffirm ties with the United States’ oldest ally in Asia amid rising tensions in the “volatile” region.

Blinken said America’s relationship with the Philippines was “extraordinary” and assured the Philippines of its willingness to work with the Southeast Asian nation on defense, climate change and control. of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blinken, the most senior US official to visit the Philippines since Marcos won a landslide victory in May, reaffirmed America’s commitment to its 1951 defense pact with the Philippines.

“We are committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty. We are committed to working with you on common challenges,” he told Marcos in brief remarks.

Welcoming Blinken to the presidential palace, Marcos said the senior US diplomat’s visit was timely, as he expressed concern about rising tensions between China and Taiwan following the recent visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the autonomous island.

“I didn’t think it increased the intensity; it just demonstrated the intensity of the conflict,” Marcos told Blinken before their private meeting.

China launched retaliatory measures against Taiwan following Pelosi’s visit, conducting live-fire drills. Taiwan is the Philippines’ closest neighbor and home to thousands of Filipino migrant workers.

At home, however, the Philippines faces increasing militarization and encroachment by Beijing in a part of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines, where Chinese coastguards and militia vessels constantly harass fishermen. Filipinos and shade-seeking boats.

“Our relationship is quite extraordinary because it’s really built on friendship, it’s also forged in partnership, and it’s strengthened by the fact that it’s also an alliance,” Blinken told Marcos. .

Evolution of the Treaty

Marcos said the Philippines’ treaty alliance with the United States is a “constant evolution.”

“I hope that we will continue to evolve this relationship in the face of all the changes that we have seen and the changes that exist between our bilateral relationship with the United States,” he said.

The Philippines is an important and strategic ally of the United States in Southeast Asia, as it faces fierce competition with Chinese power around the world.

Blinken’s visit is the latest US effort to woo the Philippines after relations soured under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose pivot to China has led to empty promises of infrastructure and investment from Beijing. .

In 2020, Duterte initially ordered the repeal of the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement, an integral part of the treaty that allows US soldiers on Philippine soil to conduct routine visits. Duterte ordered his reinstatement a year later.

Dialogue with China

Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo, in a dialogue with Blinken, reiterated the Philippines’ call on China and the United States to defuse tensions in the region.

“The Philippines, of course, continues to watch the great powers, help calm the waters and keep the peace,” Manalo told Blinken in a separate virtual meeting.

“We cannot afford a further escalation of tensions in the region, as we are already facing a number of challenges in getting our economy back to work, not least from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. he adds.

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