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In the Philippines, Blinken pledges to strengthen military ties

MANILA – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Saturday that their countries were determined to strengthen their military alliance and that their governments should address rising tensions in Asia, including those involving China. and Taiwan.

Mr. Marcos said at the start of a meeting with Mr. Blinken at the presidential palace that President Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan had not, in his view, heightened those tensions; on the contrary, it “demonstrates how intense the conflict has been at this level for quite a while now, but we kind of got used to the idea and then put it aside.”

Marcos’ comment came as China continued to hold military exercises in waters near Taiwan, two days after it fired 11 ballistic missiles into the same area, five of which landed in waters part of the exclusive economic zone of Japan.

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

Mr. Marcos also talked about strengthening the mutual defense arrangement between the United States and the Philippines. The two countries are treaty allies, and the U.S. military has long maintained a presence in the Philippines. US officials have discussed better possible access to military bases in the country, doing more exercises between the two armies and making their defense systems more interoperable – part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy to increase cooperation with allies and partners to counterbalance China.

Mr Marcos spoke of the need “to evolve this relationship in the face of all the changes we have seen”, adding that “the Mutual Defense Treaty is constantly evolving”.

Mr. Blinken agreed. “The alliance is strong,” he said, “and, I believe, can get even stronger.”

Mr Marcos was sworn in at the end of June after being elected the 17th president of the Philippines in a landslide victory. He is the son and namesake of a former dictator who fled to Hawaii with his family in 1986 after a peaceful uprising by furious citizens against the father’s shameless corruption. The elder Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989.

The question of how to confront China over its assertive behavior in the region while dealing with it as an important economic partner was raised throughout Mr. Blinken’s meetings with Philippine officials on Saturday, as well as during his discussions. along with other Asian dignitaries at a regional summit in Cambodia this week.

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

Mr. Manalo spoke to Mr. Blinken via video and participated in the press conference virtually as he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Mr Blinken told reporters that in his talks he affirmed the US’ ‘ironclad’ commitment to defending the Philippines and said any armed attack on the Philippine military would trigger commitments in their treaty mutual defense.

He also denounced illegal fishing and environmental destruction in Asian waters by “external actors”. Together, these comments clearly referenced China’s actions. For years, countries in the region have complained about illegal fishing by Chinese boats, which are supposed to operate in all seas with the approval of the Chinese navy.

The Chinese government has claimed territorial control of the waters and land features of the South China Sea, despite competing claims from Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, and Washington’s insistence on that all nations maintain freedom of navigation.

Ships from China and the Philippines clashed over the Scarborough Shoal, and an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in 2016 that the shoal was sovereign territory of the Philippines and that China could not claim the entire South China Sea as his own. China continued to send ships to the region and to assert control over it.

Mr. Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, tried to adopt more conciliatory policies toward China, including giving up strong territorial claims over the South China Sea. But Mr Marcos has pledged to abide by the international tribunal’s decision – a decision that will almost certainly put his government at odds with China.

Mr. Duterte, who served for six years, at one point offered to end a major military agreement between the United States and the Philippines. That and other actions by Mr. Duterte, who has been widely criticized for his human rights abuses and authoritarian practices, have strained relations between Manila and Washington.

But last year, Mr Duterte reaffirmed the visiting forces agreement between the countries, which the Philippine military strongly supports. The agreement sets the conditions for the rotation of American troops through the Philippines for exercises and maneuvers.

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

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

Mr Blinken said he had warned Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, at a meeting of foreign ministers on Friday morning at the summit in Cambodia against further escalation actions over the visit of Miss Pelosi. A few hours later, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the suspension of cooperation areas.

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

After the press conference, Mr Blinken visited a Covid-19 vaccination clinic at Manila Zoo and saw a young boy and girl being vaccinated. On his knees, he told the boy that he himself had received four blows. He then spoke of the need for nations to work together to stem the coronavirus pandemic, and he gave fruit to a Sri Lankan elephant before leaving the zoo.


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